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AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, 1991-1995, Wallace C. 
Olsen, series editor. 

Hem ^ork 

^>Utt (ftoUegs nf Agriculture 

J^t (Catnell UniUEraitH 






F.R.C.P., Etc. 

"He gave it for his opiaion that whoever could make two 
ears of com, or two blades of grass, to grow upon a spot 
of ground where only one grew before, would deserve 
better of mankind, and do more essential service to his 
country, than the whole race of politicians put together." 
A Voyage to Brobdi7ignag. 




When I first heard, about a year ago, of the 
electrification of seeds, and was told that it 
produced an increase in the crop grown from 
seed so treated, I naturally put the statement 
down as moonshine. My information came, 
however, from persons of standing and ex- 
perience in the world of agriculture, who 
had, as far as I knew, no axe to grind, and 
were evidently convinced of the truth of 
their belief ; and it seemed worth while, 
therefore, to investigate the evidence in 
order to undeceive them, for the thing was 
on the face of it incredible. 

Fortunately, no knowledge of agriculture 
was needed. All that was necessary was 
ability to investigate evidence in a proper 
critical spirit — and the critical spirit was 
certainly not wanting. But soon a wonder 


came to light. The further I carried my 
investigations, the more difficult I found it 
to maintain my sceptical attitude. At length, 
being in danger of a conversion parallel with 
that of Balaam the son of Beor, and mistrust- 
ing my own judgment, I induced several 
parties of experienced agriculturists, occupy- 
ing responsible positions, to visit the fields 
at harvest-time and form their own opinions. 
These gentlemen, experts appointed by foreign 
governments, agricultural correspondents of 
influential newspapers, landowners cultivat- 
ing thousands of acres of their own land, 
and so forth, accordingly visited the farms, 
and examined the crops growing from 
treated and untreated seed side by side. In 
not one case was the opinion adverse to the 
process. In nearly every case it was very 
favourable, and in some it was enthusiastic. 

After this, I was obliged to revise my 
attitude ; and having regard to the serious 
shortage of food that threatened, and still 
threatens, not this country only, but the 
whole world, I determined to spread the 


knowledge of the process as widely as I 
possibly could. 

It was true that the process was patented, 
and that I was not financially interested in 
it ; but I did not see that the financial benefit 
that my efforts might bring to the inventor 
was any reason why the country should not 
reap full benefit from the invention. If 
the labourer is worthy of his hire, surely 
the inventor is worthy of his reward. Seven 
years of strenuous work and the expenditure 
of thousands of pounds may surely look 
for some reward without being considered 





I. HISTORY .... 




3. RESULTS .... 













The application of electro-chemistry to 
agriculture and horticulture is quite new. 
The application of electricity to plants for 
the purpose of stimulating their growth is 
indeed of long standing. Forty years ago 
Sir William Siemens applied electricity to 
growing crops, and was followed by the 
Berthelgts, father and son, who conducted 
long series of experiments. Later still, 
other physicists took up the matter, and 
of late years it has even attracted the 
attention of the Board of Agriculture, in 
whose journal records of experiments have 


appeared from time to time since 19 lo. It 
is important to keep in mind the difference 
between the application of electricity alone 
to growing crops and the application of an 
electro-chemical process to seed before it is 
sown. The distinction is clear enough, but 
the two processes are constantly confused, 
and the electro-chemical process is supposed 
to be the same as the electric process, or a 
mere unimportant variation of it. 

In- the electric process, no application of 
electricity is made to the seed before germin- 
ation takes place. In the electro-chemical 
process, the sole application of electricity 
is made to the ungerminated seed. In the 
electric process, chemicals are not used : 
electricity alone is applied to the crop. In 
the electro - chemical process, the seed is 
steeped in a solution of some metallic salt, 
and the passage of the electricity through 
the solution drives the ions of the salt into 
the seed. The process is not solely electri- 
cal, but is electro-chemical, inasmuch as it 
utilises electricity to produce a chemical 

fercier^ s Electrification of Seeds, 

t ■ 


result, though it must be understood that 
this is not the whole result. In the electric 
process, the electricity is not applied until 
the plant has appeared above ground, and 
is then applied more or less continuously 
throughout the whole period of growth 
of the plant. It is discontinued at night, 
and in rainy weather, but is applied daily, 
as far as weather will permit, from the time 
of appearance of the plant above ground 
until harvest. In the electro-chemical pro- 
cess, the electricity is applied to the seed 
once for all, before it is even sown. It 
is passed through the seed alone for a few 
hours, and then the operation is at an end. 
In the electric process, posts are set up on 
the ground on which the crop is grown, 
wires are carried from post to post, and 
electricity must be brought into the farmer's 
fields. In the electro-chemical process, the 
farmer's fields are not invaded. The ap- 
paratus may be miles away ; the farmer has 
nothing to do with the matter except to 
send his seed to the electrifying station ; 


and after he has received it back, again, all 
his farming operations proceed in the usual 
manner. A project is now on foot for 
sending a travelling apparatus round to the 
farms, so that even the necessity of sending 
away the seed to be treated will be abolished. 
From what has been said it will be seen 
that the two processes are entirely different, 
having nothing whatever in common but 
the use of electricity — and even this is used 
at a very different amperage and voltage. 

The application of electricity to grow- 
ing crops has been tried experimentally by 
various experimenters for at least forty years. 
The application of an electro-chemical pro- 
cess to seeds is quite new. Until Mr Fry 
began his experiments about seven years ago, 
it does not appear that any attempt had been 
made to apply such a process to seeds, or to 
use any electrolytic process in agriculture or 

The inventor of the Wolfryn electro- 
chemical process had been for many years 
interested in electricity, and had directed his 


Paris and London Photo 
Mr Hill's Works at Poole for electrification of seeds — Exterior. 


attention to the production of high-tension 
electricity by means of steam, turning to 
practical use a discovery of Faraday's that 
had lain neglected ever since his experi- 
ments revealed the possibility. Mr Fry 
designed an apparatus by which he w^as 
able to produce at very small cost oscillating 
currents of enormous tension, up to as high 
as 100,000 volts. The apparatus was so 
successful and so cheap that it afforded 
means of equipping every tramp steamer 
with a wireless apparatus, and in fact was 
used successfully on an experimental scale 
by one of the steamers of the Great 
Western Railway Company plying between 
Weymouth and the Channel Isles. The 
Admiralty sent down members of its wire- 
less department to investigate the matter, 
and successful trials were made. When 
this point was reached, however, and a great 
future appeared to be opened out for the 
application of the invention, it was found 
impossible to use it without employing 
transmitters and receivers that were already 


protected by Marconi's patents, and it was 
necessary to abandon the project, at any rate 
until these patents had lapsed. 

It was then suggested to Mr Fry that he 
should turn his attention to the application 
of electricity produced by steam to growing 
crops. He knew of what had been done in 
this direction, and on mature consideration 
he arrived at the conclusion that, however 
experimentally successful the application of 
high-tension currents to growing crops might 
be, the expense of the application was such 
that it could not be made economically bene- 
ficial, and he made no attempt to pursue this 
matter. But his mind having been directed 
to the application of electricity to agri- 
culture, it occurred to him to try its effect 
upon seed. If, as appeared to be established, 
electricity exerted a beneficial effect upon 
the growth of plants in their maturer stages, 
it was possible, and even probable, that it 
might stimulate the germination of seeds 
also. This was a fairly obvious inference ; 
but it was a much longer step, and one that 


few would have thought of making, to con- 
jecture that the electrification of seed before 
it is sown might produce such a change in 
the seed as to cause it to germinate earlier 
when subsequently sown, and to produce a 
more healthy, vigorous, and fertile plant. 
This was a totally new conception. There 
were no known facts either in support of it 
or in conflict with it, and the only thing to 
be done was to follow the maxim of John 
Hunter — Don't think : try. 

Here, however, occurred the first difficulty. 
If currents of high tension, such as the in- 
ventor had been experimenting with, were 
passed into the grain, the apparatus required 
would be very expensive and complicated 
and would need an expert to work it. It 
would be desirable, therefore, to use ordinary 
low-tension electricity. But ordinary low- 
tension electricity would not have the pene- 
trating power of high-tension electricity, 
and would not be able to penetrate the seed 
without the aid of a conducting medium. 
Such a medium would be furnished by a 

Murder's Electrification of Seeds. 

Pitrh and London J'/ioto Agency, 

Oats grown by Mr Legg, Blashenwell Farm, Corfe Castle. Electrified on the 
left, unelectrified on the right. The number of straws in each bundle is 
the same. Note the much stouter straw grown from electrified seed, the 
longer panicles, and the much more numerous spikelets on each panicle. 


solution of some metallic salt, and hence the 
advisability of steeping the seed in such a 
solution, and of passing the electricity through 
the seed while it is immersed. The current 
would of course have an electrolytic effect 
on the solution, would decompose it and 
drive its ions into the seed immersed in it. 
Hence the process would no longer be a 
purely electrickl process : it would become 
in part a chemical process ; it would be 
electro -chemical. And thus the electro- 
chemical treatment of seeds originated. 

If a solution of a salt must be used, it 
was natural to choose first those that are used 
for the purpose of chemical manures, the 
most soluble of which are sulphate of am- 
monia and nitrate of soda, and these are also 
fairly abundant and fairly cheap. Nitrate 
of soda was first used. Wheat was steeped 
in a solution of the salt, electricity of low 
tension was passed through it for a good 
many hours, and then the wheat was sown 
in large pots, at the same time with un- 
treated wheat in other pots, filled with 


similar soil, for control, and the two were 
placed side by side in the open air for com- 
parison. The result was awaited with a 
good deal of curiosity ; and when it was 
found that in all the pots of treated wheat 
the seeds germinated earlier than in the 
control pots, it appeared that the treatment 
had produced some effect ; and this impres- 
sion was confirmed later on, when the plants 
from the treated seed grew stronger, taller, 
and produced better ears and more of them. 
Here was a beginning that encouraged further 
investigation. It seemed to show that the 
process was worth following up. It held out 
hopes of good results to be obtained in time. 
In the following season more numerous 
trials were made. Oats and barley were 
added to the seeds experimented on. Larger 
quantities were treated. Solutions of several 
different salts were employed, and in each 
solution different lots of seeds were treated 
for different lengths of time. The quantities 
treated were now too large to be sown in 
pots, and a piece of arable land was set 


aside and marked out into plots, on each of 
which a sample of the electro-chemically 
treated corn was sown, a neighbouring plot 
being in every case sown with untreated 
seed of the same sample at the same time, 
for comparison and control. Again when 
harvest time came round the results were 
decidedly encouraging : the electrified seed 
gave better crops than the controls. But 
the results were not uniform. Some of the 
plots showed better results than others, and 
reference to the records afforded an indica- 
tion as to what length of treatment, what 
strength of current, what kind of solution, 
and so forth, afforded the best result. 

It is evident that the permutations and 
combinations of these several factors are 
very numerous ; and as the three kinds of 
seed, wheat, oats, and barley, were experi- 
mented on, the number of experiments was 
trebled. In each solution, and in each separ- 
ate strength of solution, different samples of 
each seed were treated for half an hour, for 
an hour, for an hour and a half, for two 


hours, and so on, and with different strengths 
of current. The several samples were then 
sown, always with a control plot sown at 
the same time, and the results awaited. The 
method was very tedious, since only one 
crop could be raised in each season, and 
there was no previous experience, there were 
no former experiments of the same kind, 
to take for guidance : the inventor was 
obliged to begin at the very beginning. 

Little by little the conditions were nar- 
rowed down. Little by little the proper 
treatment began to emerge ; and the first 
conclusions were rather surprising. .It was 
found that, although the seeds of wheat, 
oats, and barley are so much alike in size, 
shape, consistency, and in all belonging to 
the same natural order of Gramines, yet 
they did not respond to the treatment in the 
same way. In order to secure the best 
result in barley, it had to be treated for 
twice as long as oats, which it so closely 
resembles. It was found that the constitu- 
tion of the electrodes made a material dif- 

Mercier's Electrification of Seeds. 

Paris and London Photo As'^ncy. 

Oats grown by Mr R. S. Hunt, in the same field at Poundbur}' 
Farm, Dorchester. The electrified (on the left) were sown 
a fortnight after the unelectrified (on the right). The same 
number of straws in each bundle. 


ference, iron electrodes producing a better 
effect than carbon. It was found that com- 
mon salt made a very good medium, though 
not the best, to steep the grain in ; and it 
was found that seed treated in solution of 
one salt was better adapted to one kind of 
soil, and produced a better crop when sown 
therein than the same seed when treated in 
a solution of a different salt ; while with 
other soils the success was reversed. Evi- 
dently the affair was becoming extremely 
complicated. Hundreds of experiments 
were made every season, and the total 
number is now very large ; but still, even 
for the three staple cereals there is yet 
much to be discovered, and the investigation 
of the proper treatment of horticultural seeds 
is scarcely more than begun. Enough has 
been done with them to show that when 
full investigations have been made, and the 
proper treatm'ent for each seed determined, 
results as good as those already obtained with 
cereals may be confidently expected. But up 
to the present the main efforts of the inventor 


have been concentrated upon determining 
with accuracy the best treatment for cereals; 
and when it is borne in mind how many 
factors are to be determined, and that the 
right combination of all these factors must 
be separately determined for each kind of 
seed in each kind of soil, the wonder is, not 
that so little has been determined for horti- 
cultural seeds, but that so much has been 
determined with respect to cereals. 

Even for cereals much remains to be 
done. There are something like 150 dif- 
ferent kinds of wheat in cultivation, and it 
is quite probable that, although every kind 
of wheat yields superior crops when treated 
in the manner ascertained as appropriate for 
wheat in general, yet each kind would yield 
better results still if it received a special 
treatment peculiarly suited to its own 
peculiar constitution. It will be seen, there- 
fore, that the investigation is practically 
endless, and that many years must elapse 
before the treatment that is perfectly ap- 
propriate to all the common garden seeds is 


known. On the other hand, it must be 
remembered that all that has been achieved 
at present has been achieved by the efforts 
of but a single investigator, working at first 
in the dark, and doing everything, from the 
preparation of the soil to the sowing and 
harvesting of the seed, for himself. From 
his numerous experiments principles are 
beginning to emerge into view. It is be- 
ginning to be possible to say, " Seed of this 
kind will take about so long to treat ; such 
and such a combination of salts will be 
found, if not the best, yet somewhere near 
the best " ; and so forth. As these principles 
become more clearly and firmly established, 
the time occupied in investigating the treat- 
ment of any particular kind of seed will be 
shortened ; and when many investigators 
are employed in a college with a proper 
staff of subordinates to undertake the routine 
duties, investigation will proceed faster still. 
But it is not possible at present to look 
forward to a time when such a staff will 
come to the end of its labours. 


The kinds of seeds used in agriculture 
alone are numerous, and those used in horti- 
culture are perhaps twenty, perhaps fifty 
times as numerous ; and of all these, only 
three, the staple cereals grown in this 
country, have been sufficiently tested to 
warrant the commercial use of the process 
upon them. There are other cereals, such 
as rye, millet, sesame, rice, etc., whose 
treatment is not yet determined, and the 
determination of the treatment of even the 
commonest of horticultural seeds is scarcely 
yet begun. 

It is scarcely begun, and for none of these 
seeds has the correct mode of treatment been 
fully ascertained. But something has been 
done ; some trials have been made, and for 
some of these seeds the trials have been 
fairly extensive, and up to the present no 
seed has been found that has not benefited 
by electrification. Applications have been 
made from distant parts of the world for 
trials to be made upon rice, sugar-cane, 
cotton, flax, and other seed ; and though, as 


has been said, the application of the process 
to these seeds has not been worked out in 
detail, yet up to the present no kind of seed 
has been found that does not respond to 
the treatment by producing a more vigorous 
plant, richer and superior in quality in some 
respect for which it is cultivated. This 
is especially true of cotton, tobacco, root 
crops such as mangels, turnips, and swedes, 
cabbages, tomatoes, and some others. All 
these crops are grown as annuals, and are 
harvested within a twelvemonth after they 
are sown ; and it is probable that for such 
crops the process will be found more bene- 
ficial than for crops that do not come to 
maturity until after a longer interval from 
sowing time, such as orchids, pepin fruits 
(apples and pears), citron fruits (oranges, 
lemons, and citrons), bush fruits (raspberries, 
gooseberries, currants), brambles (black- 
berries, logan-berries, wine-berries), and 
other cultivated crops. We do not yet 
know whether these crops of a longer 
maturation period will be benefited by the 


process, but all of them are occasionally 
grown from seed for the production of new 
varieties, and at present the process is a very 
tedious one, for years elapse before the plant 
grown from hybridised seed reaches the 
fruiting stage, so that the qualities of its 
fruit can be estimated. If, as may fairly be 
anticipated, this period of waiting can be 
shortened by a season or two, it is evident 
that the commercial advantage will be 

It has been said above that crops grown 
from seed that has been treated by the 
electro-chemical process are superior both in 
quantity and quality to those grown from 
untreated seed of the same sample. The 
quality of corn is estimated by its weight, 
and a small difference in the weight of a 
bushel indicates a considerable difference in 
the quality of the corn. A poor sample of 
wheat weighs 60 lbs. per bushel, an average 
sample 62 or 63 lbs. per bushel, a fine sample 
64 lbs. per bushel, and 65 lbs. per bushel 
is an extraordinarily fine sample, such as is 

Merciers Electrification of Seeds. 

Paris and London Photo Agency. 

Oats grown by Mr Roseveare, Gains Cross Farm, Blandford. Electrified 
on the left, unelectrified on the right. The same number of straws in 
each bundle. The straw from the electrified seed is stouter and longer, 
the panicles larger, and the spikelets more numerous. 


seen only in exceptional seasons. Now, the 
increase in weight observed in wheat grown 
from electrified seed varies from i to 4 lbs. 
per bushel. It is evident, therefore, that 
the use of the process not only increases the 
bulk of the crop, but also so improves its 
quality that it may command a higher price 
per bushel, yield more flour and less ofFal, 
and that wheat that would otherwise be fit 
for milling purposes alone may become fit 
for seed. 

This is a sample of the improvement in 
quality, but it is only a sample. Cotton 
grown from electrified seed produces a 
longer staple, and length of staple is one 
of the most important qualities of cotton. 
On the other hand, tobacco grown from 
electrified seed produces immense leaves 
that are not always of as good a quality 
as the smaller leaves grown from unelectri- 
fied seed. 

It is not only true seeds that yield better 
crops when electrified. Potatoes also yield 
a more abundant crop when the " seed " 


potatoes have been subjected to the process 
before they are set in the ground, and 
experiments are now being made with 
bulbs. Though the increase in the crop 
of potatoes has been very pronounced, it 
has not been constant. Sometimes the crop 
produced from electrified potatoes has shown 
a diminution, showing that in these cases 
the process had not been properly performed 
and that the true conditions required by 
potatoes had not been observed. The same 
untoward result was occasionally produced 
in the early experiments on cereals, before 
the best conditions had been ascertained ; 
and there is no reason to doubt that as 
soon as the best conditions for electrifying 
potatoes have been ascertained, success in 
increasing the crop will be as uniformly 
secured with potatoes as it already is with 
cereals. For the moment, however — that 
is, until another season has passed and pro- 
vided its experience, — the expectation with 
respect to increase in the crop of potatoes 
can be looked on only as extremely promis- 

Merciers Electrification of Seeds, 


ing, not as assured. The inventor will, 
however, welcome the trial of experimental 
plots of electrified potatoes, provided always 
that unelectrified seed potatoes of the same 
sample are planted at the same time, in the 
same field, and under the same conditions, 
so that a fair comparison can be made. 



The nature of the process has already been 
sketched. It is the passage of a weak 
current of electricity for a certain length of 
time through the seed, the duration of the 
treatment varying with the kind of seed 
treated. As a weak current of electricity 
will not pass through dry seed, the seed 
must be steeped in water ; and as a weak 
current will not pass readily through tap 
water, some salt must be dissolved in the 
water to render it conductive. Any salt 
will render the water a conductor, but not 
every salt produces the same effect upon 
the seed. The salts most readily procured 
are common salt and chloride of calcium, 
and with these the majority of the experi- 


ments have been made and the whole of 
the farmers' seed has been treated. Other 
salts have been tried, and remarkable effects 
have followed ; but most of the experiments 
have been conducted during the war, and 
the war has made some salts too expensive for 
use upon a large scale, and has made others 
altogether unprocurable. Hence common 
salt (chloride of sodium) and chloride of 
calcium have been the salts used. The 
solutions have been used at a strength of 
from 2 J to 5 per cent., the solid being taken 
by weight and the liquid by "measure, so 
that I oz. of salt is used for each pint of water, 
^ lb. for each gallon. The quantity of the 
solution required is 5 gallons or more per 
bushel of seed, so that a charge of 50 sacks of 
seed would require 1000 gallons of solution. 
In practice, the solution and the seed are 
best contained in an oblong shallow tank, 
which may be of wood, or concrete, or 
brick faced with cement. In any case, the 
internal angles should be rounded, to facili- 
tate the removal of every grain of seed when 

Aferczer's Electrification of Seeds » 

Paris and London Photo Agency. 

Oats from the same field. Electrified on the left, unelectrified 
on the right. The same number of straws in each bundle. 
The difference is conspicuous. 


the operation is over, and the floor should 
slope from all directions to a drain, the 
aperture of which must be closed by a wire 
grid, to prevent the escape of the seed when 
the liquor is drawn off by opening a valve 
in the course of the drain. 

A tank of the inside measurement of 6 ft. 
6 in. X 3 ft. X 2 ft. deep will treat 4 sacks at 
one charge. A tank 8 ft. x 4 ft. x 2 ft. 6 in. 
deep will take a charge of 10 sacks. A tank 
10 ft. X 5 ft. X 3 ft. will take a charge of 20 
sacks ; and so on. As a matter of practical 
convenience it is found better to have several 
small tanks than one large one. 

Each end of the tank is completely faced 
on the inside with an iron plate ^ inch 
thick, which serves as an electrode, and to 
these plates the wires conveying the elec- 
tricity are attached. 

The source of the electricity may be a 
dynamo installed for the purpose, or it 
may be a town supply. In either case a 
switchboard is necessary, with a rheostat 
for regulating the current. The quantity 


of electricity employed for most seeds is 
about 8 watts per gallon of fluid used. A 
good working rule is to allow 2 amperes 
per square foot of acting surface of one 
electrode. The tanks may be ranged in series 
or in parallel, as may be most convenient. 

After the seed has received its proper 
quantum of current, which varies much 
according to the kind under treatment, the 
liquor is run off and the seed is taken out 
and conveyed to the drying apparatus. 

Wet seed cannot be sown. It sticks 
together, and if an attempt is made to sow 
it broadcast it falls in lumps instead of in 
separate grains, and for the same reason it 
will not pass through the drills. Even if 
not wet, but only damp — though the seed 
may be sown if not very damp, — it is swollen, 
will not pass through the drills at all unless 
they are suitably adjusted, and even then 
will not pass regularly and equally. More- 
over, a farmer must sow his seed, not when 
he would, but when he can — that is to say, 
when he has produced a good seed-bed, and 


when the weather is favourable. It is rare, 
therefore, for a farmer to be able to sow his 
seed the day that he receives it, and if it is 
kept in a damp state it may heat, so that its 
germinating power is destroyed ; or it may 
sprout, and become unsowable ; or, if neither 
of these accidents happens, it is sure to become 
mildewed, and thereby injured. For all these 
reasons it is necessary to dry the seed. 

But there is another cogent reason. It 
is well known to practical farmers that the 
drying of damp seed equalises and stimulates 
its germination, and the crop is shghtly 
improved if the seed is merely soaked and 
then dried. The crop is still further im- 
proved if the seed is dried after being 
soaked in certain chemical solutions ; and 
the improvement has been occasionally such 
that the inventor of the electro-chemical 
process has taken out a patent for the process 
of soaking in chemicals and drying. But 
this was done chiefly as a safeguard, for 
the resulting improvement is never so great 
as is obtained by the additional process 

Mercier's Electrification of Seeds. 

Paris and London Photo Agency. 

Barley grown by Mr Roseveare, Gains Cross Farm, Blandford. Elec- 
trified on the left, unelectrified on the right. Note the longer and 
thicker straw, and the much longer and plumper ears of the 
electrified grain. 


of electrification, and when once the seed 
is in the salted liquor, and the necessary 
expense of subsequent drying has been in- 
curred, it adds little to the trouble or the 
expense to pass a current of electricity 
through the seed, and thus gain the maxi- 
mum of benefit. 

The seed must be dried, and the drying 
is very important. If the seed is not 
sufficiently dried, it not only loses the 
benefit that is derived, as has just been 
mentioned, from being dried, but it may 
become mildewed or mouldy or otherwise 
damaged. On the other hand, if it is dried 
too much it may be killed outright. Every 
organised structure, every part of an animal 
or vegetable body, contains a certain share 
of moisture, and if deprived of this moisture 
it dies. Seed corn contains naturally from 
II to 14 per cent, of moisture, and if it is 
deprived of this residual moisture it dies. 
It is important, therefore, that the seed 
should not be over-dried. 

The method usually employed for the 


drying of various substances is the applica- 
tion of heat, and it is usually supposed that 
the application of heat is sufficient by itself 
to extract or drive the moisture out of the 
heated substance ; and many commercial 
appliances for drying are constructed on the 
principle that heating is sufficient for drying. 
This is a mistake, and is in some appliances 
a very costly mistake. Heat is a useful 
assistant and adjuvant to drying, but heat 
by itself is totally useless. 

If we fill a vessel with water and then 
close the vessel air-tight, so that nothing 
can escape, it is manifest that we may heat 
it to any degree we please and the water 
will not escape so long as the vessel is strong 
enough to withstand the pressure. Or if, 
instead of water, we fill the vessel with wet 
clothes or wet corn or any other wet sub- 
stance, the same is true. ' If we heat the 
vessel, the wet clothes or the wet corn will 
be heated, but will not be dried. They will 
not be dried, for the moisture cannot escape, 
and when the vessel is opened, the only 


difference will be that the clothes or the 
corn, instead of being cold and wet, will be 
hot and wet. They will still be as wet 
as ever. 

On the other hand, everyone knows the 
drying effect of a March wind. A peck of 
March dust is worth a king's ransom, and 
fortunately there is usually much dust in 
March, and dust is dry — very dry. How 
is it that this soil which was moist, un- 
pleasant mud yesterday is dry dust to-day ? 
It has not been heated. March wind is not 
hot : it is very cold — nothing makes one 
shiver as March wind does. But yet it is 
a most powerful drier. Why ? Manifestly 
because, though it is not hot, it is dry. 

If a thing is wet — that is to say, if it 
has moisture adhering to its surface — this 
moisture may be removed by wiping, or by 
blotting, or by centrifugalising, or by evapora- 
tion ; but if the substance is damp — if, that is 
to say, the moisture is not in the surface but 
inherent in the texture of the substance — then 
this moisture can be removed by evaporation 


into the air and in no other way. The 

moisture in the substance is under tension — 

that is to say, its particles are in movement, 

and in the course of this movement they are 

constantly coming to the surface and tending 

to fly off. Whether or not they will fly off 

depends entirely upon whether there is room 

for them in the adjacent air. Air can hold 

a great deal of water vapour, but cannot 

hold an indefinitely large quantity ; and 

when it is full, it can hold no more. If we 

put a moist substance into air that is saturated 

with moisture, the substance will not dry ; 

but if the air is not saturated, it will take 

up moisture until it becomes saturated ; and 

the drier it is, the more rapidly it will take 

up moisture, and the more rapidly a moist 

substance placed in it will become dry. 

But, of course, as the moisture escapes from 

the substance into the air, the air becomes 

more and more charged with moisture, takes 

up the water from the substance more and 

more slowly, until at length it becomes 

saturated and will hold no more. Then 


drying ceases. If we wish the drying process 
to continue, we must either substitute a new 
portion of dry air, or we must extract the 
moisture from the air to enable it to take 
up more. Both methods are effectual in 
practice. In practice it is found that a 
current of air — that is to say, the constant 
renewal of the moist air — dries a substance 
much more rapidly than stagnant air ; and 
in practice it is found that even stagnant air 
will dry a substance completely if we furnish 
the air with some hygroscopic substance, 
such as chloride of zinc, or sulphuric acid, 
which will extract the moisture from the 
air as fast as it enters the air. 

But there is another way of drying the 
air besides extracting the moisture from it. 
Warm air will hold more moisture than cold 
air, and the hotter the air, the more moisture 
it will hold ; so that hot air, even though it 
actually contain more moisture than cold air, 
may be relatively drier, and able to absorb 
more moisture. Hence the best possible 
condition for drying is a current of hot air. 

Mercier's Electrification of Seeds. 

Paris ciiid London Photo Agency. 

Wheat grown by Mr Roseveare, Gains Cross Farm, Blandford. Electrified 
on the left, unelectrified on the right. The straw grown from electrified 
seed is stouter, and the ears are longer and plumper. 



Heat has yet a further effect in aiding the 
process of drying, though by itself it is, as 
we have seen, useless. It increases the 
activity of the particles of moisture in the 
damp substance, and helps them to fly off 
from its surface into the surrounding air. 
Hence we arrive at the optimum conditions 
for drying, and find that drying will take 
place most rapidly when the body to be dried 
is placed in the most rapid current of the 
hottest air. 

In the case of seed grain, very hot air 
must not be used, for above a certain 
temperature the grain is killed. We must 
therefore depend mainly upon the rapidity 
with which the air can be changed, and let 
this air be of the maximum permissible 
temperature, which is about loo degrees F. 

After the electrification of the seed is 
completed, therefore, the next process is to 
raise the seed out of the soaking tank, 
preferably in baskets, so that the surface 
moisture may drain away, and then to 
deposit it in an apparatus in which it is 


subjected to a blast of air at loo degrees P., 
either driven or drawn through the mass of 
seed, until it is dried to the proper degree 
of desiccation. One effect of the war has 
been to diminish very much the quantity of 
beer that has been brewed, and the conse- 
quence of this has been that a large number 
of malt-kilns have been put out of use. 
Many of these have been utilised for the 
purpose of drying electrified seed, and have 
answered the purpose very well. Owing 
to the shortage of every kind of labour, 
however, it has not always been possible 
to engage the services of skilled maltsters ; 
and a malt-kiln requires skilled supervision. 
Thus it has happened that in some cases 
the seed has not been properly dried, and 
some failures are attributable to this cause. 
Fortunately, the cause is no longer in 
operation, and no fiirther accidents of this 
kind need be anticipated. 

The process is now complete, and the 
seed may be sown. It should be sown 
promptly, for the effect of the electrification 


is not permanent. Under ordinary circum- 
stances, and if the seed is kept meanwhile 
in a dry place, the effect lasts for about a 
month. It has upon occasion lasted for 
considerably longer, but it cannot be de- 
pended on to do so, and it is unsafe to defer 
the sowing for more than a month. After 
this period, though some effect may be 
obtained, the full effect will not be obtained, 
and the trouble and expense will be to some 
extent wasted. 



The electrification of seed improves in 
many ways the crop grown from it. In 
most cases it improves the crop in those 
ways that are commercially desirable ; but 
in a few cases it has produced a result that, 
while increasing the quantity of the crop, 
has increased it in a way that is commercially 
undesirable. For example, the quantita- 
tive yield of tobacco leaf has been much 
increased ; but, in fine tobacco, what is 
wanted is not so much increase in bulk as 
improvement in quality. A smaller leaf of 
better quality is of more value commercially 
than a huge rank leaf. The result actually 
produced has been the latter — a much larger 
leaf, but of inferior quality. It is by no 



means necessary or inevitable, however, that 
the result should be of this character. It 
must be remembered that, with all seeds but 
those of cereals, the process is in its infancy, 
and we are far yet from knowing all its 

In this connection, a recent experiment 
on peas is highly significant. Leguminous 
plants of all kinds are refractory to the 
process, which has hitherto produced little 
result upon any of them. They have there- 
fore been electrified in various ways and in 
various solutions, and the effect of one of 
these experiments on pea Duke of Albany 
was very remarkable. Duke of Albany is a 
pea that grows to a height of about four feet, 
and in light soil has rather light-coloured 
foliage, the leaves being about two inches in 
diameter. In the experiment in question, a 
row of fifteen yards in length was sown, as 
to one half, with peas electrified in a certain 
manner, while the other half was sown with 
untreated peas out of the same bag as a 
control. The control seeds all grew as 


normal Duke of Albany's, of the usual 
height, colour, and size of leaf. The elec- 
trified peas threw up plants that grew to 
only about eighteen inches in height, were 
of a very dark green colour, and their 
leaves were no larger than half-crowns. 
The pods were about the usual size, and 
contained the usual number of peas, but 
were of much darker colour than those of 
the controls. Now peas, garden peas at 
any rate, are grown solely for their seeds, 
and, except in colour, the seeds of the 
treated plants were not very different from 
those of the controls ; but if the peas had 
been grown as some plants — coleus, for 
instance — are, for depth of colour, they 
would have taken a prize at any show ; 
and if they had been grown for the flavour 
of their foliage, as tested either by eating 
or by smoking, it can scarcely be supposed 
that this flavour would not have been 
altered, and enhanced. It seems, therefore, 
that, by modifying the electric treatment 
of the seed, we can to some extent guide 


the resulting alteration of the crop in the 
direction we desire. 

All this, however, is matter for future 
experiment, and will take years to determine. 
At present the potentialities of the process 
have been determined only for wheat, oats, 
and barley, and even for these probably only 
in part. In them, however, it has been 
wholly beneficial, and has resulted in in- 
creasing the yield in just those respects that 
are economically desirable. 

In the first place, the quantity or bulk 
of the grain is increased, and is usually 
increased to a very material extent ; in the 
second place, the quality of the grain is 
improved ; and in the third place, the straw 
is increased in length, in weight, and in 
stoutness. All these results are commerci- 
ally valuable, and it would be very desirable, 
if it were practicable, to give in figures, in 
bushel measures, in pounds and hundred- 
weight avoirdupois, and in percentages, the 
advantage in yield of the crops from electri- 
fied seed over the crops from seed that has 


not been electrified. It would seem to the 
uninstructed that this must be a very easy 
thing to do, and that, out of the hundreds 
of cases in which electrified seed has been 
grown by farmers for profit, some scores at 
least of weighed and measured results should 
be available for citation. But those who 
form such an anticipation know little of the 
nature of the farmer, and, as the scarcity 
of weighed and measured results must tell 
against the right estimation of the process, 
it may be as well to explain here the kind 
of man the farmer is, so as to account for 
this scarcity. A mere mention or a brief 
explanation will look like an excuse ; and 
this is no excuse. It is a good, sound, 
valid reason. 

Farmers are notoriously a conservative 
race, slow to adopt new ideas, new pro- 
cesses, new implements, and new materials ; 
and there is good reason for their conserva- 
tism. Agriculture is the oldest of all 
industries, and one of the most complex 
and difficult to master and to pursue with 


success. It is so much at the mercy of 
the capricious forces of nature that it is 
impossible for even the ablest farmer to 
pursue it with constant success. Farming 
requires more intelligence than any other 
industrial occupation, the reasons being two. 
In the first place, the farmer's task is with 
living things, which are indefinitely more 
difficult to mould to his purposes than are 
the inanimate materials dealt with by the 
engineer, the miner, the ironmaster, the 
textile worker, the builder, or the cabinet- 
maker. In the second place, the opera- 
tions that he must conduct are much more 
numerous and diverse than need to be 
pursued by one man in any other industry. 
The operator in a factory may pass a life- 
time in doing nothing else but fashioning 
the heads of pins, or attending to the regular 
movements of a group of spindles or looms. 
Such operations call for little skill, little 
intelligence, and that all of one kind, and 
a very limited kind ; but the agricultural 
labourer's duties vary with every day in 


the year, and every hour in the day. He 
must " plough and sow, and reap and mow, 
and be a farmer's boy." His work is with 
living things ; and living things, whether 
animal or vegetable, cannot be managed 
by coercion. They must be humoured. 
They must be understood. They must be 
studied individually. Unlike inanimate sub- 
stances, they have their likes and dislikes. 
Unlike inanimate substances, they are sub- 
ject to competition, both from one another 
and from other live things. The plants of 
wheat in a wheat-field have rivals in one 
another, and a competitor in every weed 
that grows near them ; and the live stock 
similarly compete with one another — aye, 
and sometimes bully one another, so that 
one will monopoHse the best pasture, and 
another will be left to get what he can. 
The living things by which the farmer 
makes his liveHhood are subject to diseases, 
many of them infectious ; must be increased 
by reproduction, a mysterious process ; are 
subject to laws of heredity but little under- 


stood ; and throughout the whole of his 
operations the farmer finds himself every- 
where confronted with mystery. In such 
circumstances it behoves him to walk 
warily, and to think twice before he leaves 
the old ways, trodden smooth by the feet 
of innumerable predecessors, and therefore 
tried and safe. They may not lead to 
astonishing and dramatic success, but at 
least they are sure not to lead to dire 
disaster ; so he goes in the old ways. 
Besides this, the farmer is of necessity 
keenly observant. His whole livelihood 
depends daily and hourly on the keen- 
ness and faithfulness of his observation of 
a thousand things that the townsman is 
utterly blind to. At an agricultural show, 
a townsman can see no difference between 
the winner of the champion cup and the 
beast that is but commended ; but to every 
farmer present they are wide as the poles 
asunder. The farmer is keenly observant, 
and has a tenacious memory. Both are 
necessary in his business ; and the farmer 


is not slow to observe the blunders com- 
mitted by his would-be teachers, and not 
quick to forget them. No class of men 
in the world is so prone to mistrust the 
amateur ; and it must in justice be said 
that no class of men in the world has better 
reason. Among amateurs, the professional 
farmer reckons the professor of agriculture, 
whose experiments are regarded with disdain, 
and whose advice is received with sceptical 
indifference ; and in this again the farmer 
is not without justification. An instance 
will suffice. 

Professors used to make merry over a 
queer superstition entertained by farmers 
that there was a strong connection between 
the disease of wheat known as rust, and the 
presence of barberry bushes in the hedges 
of the wheat-field. Rust, they said, appears 
on wheat, if not solely where there are 
barberries in the hedges, yet much more 
frequently in such fields, which are also 
subject to more virulent attacks. Over 
this "irrational superstition" the professors 


made merry, until it was found that rust 
is a fungus ; that, like many fungi, it passes 
through different stages in its existence ; and 
that one of these stages is passed upon the 
barberry. When this discovery was made, 
it was the farmers' turn to laugh, and it gave 
them a pull upon the professors, and a dis- 
trust of their judgment, which remain to this 
day ; for farmers not only are keen observers, 
as the incident shows, but also have tenacious 

In comparison with the town-dweller, the 
farmer leads a solitary life. His neighbours 
are few, and are comparatively far away ; and, 
having fewer opportunities of human inter- 
course, he has fewer gifts of expression. 
He feels his way to his modes of action by 
dint of accumulated experiences, and reason- 
ings that he never puts into words, so that 
he seen:is to reach his decisions by a sort of 
instinct ; but his decisions are usually right, 
and founded on good reason, though he may 
be unable to put his reasons into words. 
He shares with other professional men a 



contempt for the amateur and for the out- 
sider who offers advice, and perhaps he feels 
this contempt more than men of other 
professions, and this for two reasons. He 
feels more than men of other professions 
the vital necessity of experience, and the 
uselessness of instruction that is not ac- 
companied by experience ; and he has, in 
that tenacious memory of his, not a few 
instances in which the advice of outsiders 
has proved to be wrong. He has seen 
the amateur and inexperienced agriculturist 
suffer heavy lo§s by the premature adoption 
of methods that have been insufficiently 
tried ; and thus he acquires a distrust of 
all new methods — a distrust that he is apt 
to carry too far. 

For these reasons it was not easy to induce 
farmers to try the method of submitting 
their seeds to the electro-chemical process. 
It was new, it was strange, and it was 
recommended by an outsider who was not 
a farmer, and had no experience of agricul- 
ture ; but, under a certain amount of pressure 


from his employer, a farmer was at last 
prevailed upon to try it. He tried it, but 
he tried it with a firm and settled conviction 
that it was useless and would turn out to be 
a failure. It is not too much to say, for he 
has himself admitted, that he wanted it to 
be a failure, and therefore he made no effort 
to make it succeed. But much to his 
surprise it did succeed. Its success was 
undeniable, and upon a second trial he was 
less sceptical and more inclined to give a 
fair chance to the new process. Again it 
was successful, and now he pursued it in 
good earnest. He put up a plant to treat 
his own seed under the supervision of the 
inventor, and is now become an enthusiastic 
advocate of the new process. 

Farmers pay little attention to the advice 
of inexperienced outsiders, and their reluc- 
tance is natural, and is usually not unwise ; 
but they pay much attention to the experi- 
ence of other farmers, and are always wilUng 
to try a method that has been found success- 
ful by their neighbours. Farmers meet at 


markets and at ordinaries and talk over 
farming affairs, and in this way a knowledge 
of the electro -chemical process and the 
practice of employing it spread from farm 
to farm in the neighbourhood in which it 
was invented and first employed. For 
several years this was the only way in which 
it spread, for the inventor himself is as 
cautious as a farmer, and was unwilling to 
make his invention publicly known until it 
was proved and proved and better proved, 
until it was proved up to the hilt and could 
not be gainsaid. This stage is now reached, 
and he has been induced at length, under 
some little pressure, to make it known to 
the world. 

But now arose a difficulty from the general 
practice of farmers. It has been said that, 
owing to the circumstances of their lives, 
they have little gift of expression. Their 
lives are passed out of doors, in actual con- 
tact with things, and it is irksome to them 
to sit down, after an exhausting day's work 
in the open air, and commit their thoughts 


to paper. Their memories serve them well 
enough, and they see no necessity to call in 
the aid of pen and paper to assist them. 
For this reason farmers are not good book- 
keepers. They keep in their minds general 
results rather than accurate figures, for 
which they see no necessity, and which 
consume time and energy that, as it seems 
to the farmer, would be better employed in 
other work. If he sees, as he is quick to 
see, that a certain manure or a certain mode 
of cultivation produces a material increase 
in his crop, that is enough for him. He 
sees no necessity to weigh and measure the 
result to determine precisely how many 
pounds or bushels he has gained. He is a 
busy man. He is always short of labour. 
Weighing and measuring on the large scale 
required by farm crops are tedious processes, 
and consume much labour and time, often 
at the busiest season of the year. It is only 
during the last four years, the years of war, 
when labour has been scarce almost to the 
point of famine, that the electro-chemical 


process has been used by farmers ; and it is 
only in a very small fraction of the cases in 
which it has been used that weighed and 
measured results have been obtained. Even 
of' these, a considerable proportion would 
not have been obtained if an independent 
expert, quite unconnected with the farmers, 
had not been sent by the Board of Agri- 
culture to visit several farms for the express 
purpose of investigating the results of the 
process, and had not himself measured off 
portions of the crops with scientific accuracy, 
reaped them, threshed them, and weighed 
and measured the proceeds. General im- 
pressions of the value of the process, opinions 
in its favour, descriptions of the superiority 
of the crops resulting from it, the inventor 
has in plenty ; but weighed and measured 
results are few. As far as they go, however, 
they are almost uniformly in favour of the 
process ; and when we take into account the 
inevitable uncertainty and apparent caprice 
of the results of farming operations, when 
we allow for the disturbing influences, some 


of which will be enumerated on a subsequent 
page, the general uniformity of benefit that 
has resulted from the use of the process is 
such as to establish its value beyond the 
shadow of a doubt. 

In previous years failures were mingled 
with successes. As seasons went by, and 
as with each season the process was better 
understood and its details perfected, the pro- 
portion of successes to failures increased. 
The reasons of the failures were discovered 
and provided against, until in the harvest of 
1 9 1 8 failures — by which is meant failure to 
secure a more valuable crop from the treated 
than from the untreated seed — were almost 
entirely eliminated. 

The following are the measured and 
weighed results reported up to the present 
as obtained in the harvest of 191 8 : — 



Gain per 
Acre in 

Gain per Acre 
in Straw. 

1 . Mr W. W. Lovelace, 

Puddlehinton, Dor- 

2. Mr C. Foot, Bin- 

combe, Dorchester. 

3. Mr H. H. Caice, Bin- 

combe, Dorchester. 

4. Mr H. Legg, Blashen- 

well, Corfe Castle. 

5. Mr W. W. Lovelace, 


6. Messrs S. & H. Smith, 

Rollington, Corfe 

7. Mrs Duke, Godman- 


7 bushels. 

6^ bushels. 

1 6 bushels. 


18 bushels. 

6 bushels. 


19 bushels. 

2 bushels loss. 

2 tons 8 cvft. 

Loss I cwt. 
Gain 9 cw^t. 
Gain 10 cwt. 
Gain 4 cwt. 

Loss 5 cwt. 

Gain about 
33 per cent.* 

* The straw was estimated by the farmer when the 
whole field was threshed. 

These results were obtained by the in- 
dependent expert already mentioned. In 
addition, the following have been reported 
by the farmers concerned : — 



8. Mr S. Hawkins, 

Whitestone, Exeter. 

9. Mrs Duke, Godman- 


10. Mr A. H. Moore, 

Woodlands Park, 

11. Mr Godwin, More- 

ton, Dorset. 

12. Mr R. S. Hicks, Wil- 

braham Temple, 

13. Mr Stidson, Thurle- 

ston, Devon. 

14. Mr W. T. Maye, 

Charlton, Dorset. 

15. Mr A. T. Cock, Ford 

Farm, Lispeard. 

16. R. S. Hicks, Esq., 

Wijbraham Temple, 

Gain per 
Acre in 

8 J bushels. 

y^ bushels. 

5| bushels. 

12 bushels. 


5 bushels. 

50 per cent. 

21 per cent. 

12 bushels. 

Mangels, 2 
tons 15 cwt. 

Gain per Acre 
in Straw. 

20 per cent. 

It is true that this is but a meagre list in 
comparison with the 1 50 farmers who reaped 


last year corn grown from seed treated by 
the Wolfryn process, but the reasons for the 
scarcity of measured and weighed results 
have already been given ; and these reports 
have been supplemented by a chorus of 
approval, expressed in general terms, which 
it is scarcely worth while to reproduce. It 
may be mentioned, however, that of 27 
farmers supplied by Messrs Holman & Sons 
in this, their first season, every one has 
reported that his yield of grain was much 
larger from the treated than from the un- 
treated seed, but that, owing to scarcity of 
labour, he was unable to give weighed and 
measured results. 

Through other electrifying stations the 
inventor has received fewer reports from 
farmers ; but he is not disheartened by this. 
It is no libel on farmers to say that, if the 
results had been unsatisfactory, the agents 
who electrified the seed, and were paid for 
doing so, would certainly have heard of it. 
In this case, at any rate, no news is good 
news. It would not be true to say that no 


complaints have been received. There have 
been a very few ; but in every case, without 
any exception, in which the result has been 
disappointing, it was found on investigation 
that a manifest error had been made in 
the application of the process. Either the 
operator was inexperienced and misunder- 
stood his instructions, or there was some 
oversight, or some fault in the apparatus. 
In the most efficient factories mistakes are 
made. The best workmen sometimes spoil 
their work ; and, though the process of 
electrifying seeds is a very simple process, 
men are fallible and will sometimes make 
mistakes ; apparatus is of human construc- 
tion and will sometimes break down or get 
out of order — and then things will go 
wrong ; but in no case has failure been traced 
to the process itself. Whenever there has been 
a failure — and, since the process is carried 
out by human agency, there have been a 
few — the failure has without exception been 
traced to faulty execution. 

Of the fourteen results of growing electri- 


fied corn that are given above, one-half were 
obtained by an official who investigated the 
matter on behalf of the Food Production 
Department of the Board of Agriculture. 
This gentleman spent about a fortnight over 
his investigations among the farms of Dorset- 
shire on which electrified seed was growing 
alongside of unelectrified seed from the same 
bulk. His method was to measure ofF two 
plots of two perches each, one plot on each 
side of the dividing line between the two 
crops. The two plots were so close together 
as to minimise any chance of difference in 
the character of the soil on which they were 
grown (see pp. -jj etseq.), and all the farmers 
agreed that there was practically no differ- 
ence. Each plot was reaped as close as 
possible to the ground, and the resulting 
crop was then carefully threshed, weighed, 
and measured. About these results, there- 
fore, there can be no possible doubt ; and 
it is noticeable that six out of the seven 
showed a positive advantage in favour of 
the electrified seed, and the average advan- 


tage was very considerable. Of the seventh 
case, in which no advantage appeared, I 
shall have something to say later on. 

The official made his report to the Food 
Production Department, but this report has 
not yet been published, and presumably will 
not now be published ; but the Department 
has composed the following Memorandum, 
which it issues to members of the public 
who inquire as to the merits of the Wolfryn 
process : — 

Food Production Department — Technical Committee. 

Wolfryn Electro-Chemical Treatment of Seeds. 

This process is understood to consist in passing 
a regulated electric current through a tank con- 
taining a weak solution of some neutral salt, such 
as common salt, in which the seed undergoing 
treatment is steeped. 

Pot experiments with treated barley and oats 
made at the Rothamsted Experimental Station in 
191 8, at the request of the Technical Committee, 
gave a result slightly in favour of the treatment in 
the case of oats, but negative in the case of barley. 


The process has gained some popularity among 
farmers, particularly in Dorsetshire ; in the latter 
county it is stated that over 2000 acres were 
under treated crops in 191 8'. A member of the 
Technical Committee, accompanied by the Execu- 
tive Officer of the Dorsetshire Agricultural 
Executive Committee, visited certain crops and 
reported that on the date of inspection (July 1 8th) 
the treated crops in most cases appeared to give 
the heavier yields. This view was supported by 
actual weighings of small areas of certain of the 
crops made later on behalf of the Committee. 
The weighings showed an increased yield of corn 
in six out of seven cases (wheat, barley, and oats) 
varying from 240-900 lbs. per acre, and a decrease 
in the seventh case (barley). Potatoes gave a de- 
creased yield in four cases out of the five selected. 

In interpreting these results it must be remem- 
bered that the weighings were made on small plots, 
that the plots were not in duplicate, and that, as 
far as the Committee are aware, no special steps 
were taken to secure uniformity in the soil on 
which the trials were made. 

On the information at their disposal the Com- 
mittee are not in a position to come to any definite 
conclusion on the claims put forward for the pro- 
cess ; but, assuming that the treatment does actually 
increase the yield of the resulting crops, it would 


still be impossible to say at present whether such 
results were due to the treatment as a whole, in- 
cluding the effect of the electric current, or whether 
equally good results might not be obtained by 
either soaking the grain in the appropriate fluid 
(or water) for a suitable period with subsequent 
drying, or by drying the grain at a suitable 
temperature without the previous soaking or elec- 
trical treatment. Experiments are in progress 
with a view to securing information on these 

Technical Committee, 

Food Production Department, 

72 Victoria Street, S.W. i. 

It will be seen that the Memorandum 
contains a certain amount of fact, but this 
is enveloped in so much commentary that 
the facts are obscured, to some extent thrust 
out of sight, and to some extent minimised 
and depreciated. If we strip away this 
commentary and allow the facts to stand by 
themselves, they are as follows : — 

In six cases out of seven, the crops from 
the electrified seed showed an important 
advantage over the crops from unelectri- 
fied seed. 


The amount of the advantage ranged 
from 240 lbs. to 900 lbs. of grain per acre; 
or from 5 bushels 20 lbs. to 16 bushels 
4 lbs. per acre ; or from 8 per cent, to 
61 per cent. 

The average gain in yield of grain was 
10^ bushels, or more than 2^ sacks per 

The money value of this increase is, at 
present prices, from £2, 4s. 3d. to £y, 12s. 
per acre, with an average profit of ^^4, i6s. 
after deducting the cost of electrification. 

These are the facts as ascertained, recorded, 
and published by the Board of Agriculture, 
and the facts need no commentary. 

But the explanations, surmises, and doubts 
by which the facts are overlaid and obscured 
do need some commentary ; and the com- 
ments that I venture to make upon them 
are these : — 

When divested of unnecessary verbiage 
and put in plain terms, the comments of 
the Board of Agriculture, or of its Food 
Production Department, or of th? Technical 


Committee of that Department, whichever 
is the author of them, amount to this : 

1 . The Board, or the Department, or the 
Committee, is not sure that the conditions 
under which the treated and untreated crops 
were growing were identical. 

2. The Board is not sure that the differ- 
ences between the crops may not have been 
due to some other cause than the electrifica- 
tion of the seed. 

3. Though this important advantage 
followed in six cases out of seven when 
electrified and unelectrified seeds were sown 
side by side on large acreages under ordinary 
farming conditions, yet some experiments in 
pots showed no important advantage. 

Let us take these comments seriatim. 

I. The electrified and unelectrified seeds 
grew side by side in the same field on ad- 
joining patches or plots of ground ; but 
the Board is not sure that the conditions 
under which the two crops were grown 
were identical. Reference to p. jj et seq. will 
show what the Board probably had in mind 



in making this comment, and it must be 
admitted at once that the conditions were 
not identical. If we are to be scientifically 
accurate, conditions that are identical in 
the strict sense of the word can never be 
secured. Even in laboratory experiments, 
when the experimenter has everything under 
strict control, and can use not only seed from 
the same bulk, as was used in these field 
experiments, but also soil from the same 
compost heap, and pots from the same cast, 
and can stand them side by side, and treat 
them to the best of his knowledge and skill 
in precisely the same manner, measuring and 
weighing every drop of water and every 
grain of manure that is supplied to them — 
even in these conditions the treatment of 
the two plants is not identical. The con- 
ditions may, by additional precautions, be 
made more and more closely alike ; but 
they can never be identical, and to complain 
that they are not identical is not to the 
point. They must be different : that is 
unavoidable ; but the point is, were they 


sufficiently different to account for the differences 
in the crops ? This is all that matters, and, 
as to this, the officer of the Board who 
made the experiments must be presumed 
to know his business. He was sent to make 
the fairest possible comparison, and there is 
no reason to suppose that he was lacking 
in skill or in honesty. Both he and the 
farmers upon whose land the crops were 
growing were convinced that there was no 
such difference in the soil or aspect or other 
conditions of the plots compared as would 
account for the difference in the crops. 
The cause of this difference must therefore 
have been in the difference of the seed. 

2. Supposing and granting, however, that 
the difference in the crops is due to differ- 
ence in the seed, the Board is not sure that 
the difference in the seed is due to its 
electrification. It may have been due to 
the soaking. It may have been due to the 
soaking combined with the drying. Or it 
may have been due to the soaking in a 
chemical solution. 


These surmises have a certain plausibility, 
and are in accordance with our knowledge of 
the subject. It is known to every gardener 
that seed will germinate more rapidly if it 
is soaked for a few hours before it is sown. 
The germination is usually accelerated by 
several days. It is known to every ex- 
perienced and advanced agriculturist that 
soaking and then drying the seed equalises 
and improves the germination, though not 
the germinating energy. These things have 
been known since the time of the Pharaohs, 
and, though it cannot be positively asserted, 
it is probable that our first parents, when 
they were cultivating the Garden of Eden, 
soaked their seed in the waters of the Tigris 
or the Euphrates. Soaking the seed in 
order to accelerate germination is one of 
the routine operations of gardening ; but 
if the Board of Agriculture wishes to test 
the value of the practice, no harm will 
be done by its experiments on the subject. 
It is always desirable to test the truth of 
traditional beliefs, and the Board might add 


to these experiments others designed to 
ascertain whether a stone thrown into the 
air really does, as is generally believed, fall 
to the ground. 

The effect on the crop of soaking and 
drying the seed was tested some forty 
years ago with German laboriousness by 
two German experimenters, and the Board 
of Agriculture has unearthed these forgotten 
experiments and republished them in its 
Journal for February 1919. The experi- 
ments, it is to be remarked, were made on 
no cereal but rye. Considerable increase 
in the crop was noted in some cases ; but 
the gist and moral of the experiments — a 
moral which the Board of Agriculture fails 
to point — is that, although these experiments 
were made forty years ago, and although 
they were made in Germany, from whence 
all scientific and reliable knowledge has 
been supposed for so many years to emanate, 
the practice they inculcate has never been 
adopted, even in Germany. If there had 
been any value in it, sufficient to compensate 


for the trouble required, we may be sure that 
it would have become general long ago. 

The Board of Agriculture is now, it 
appears, conducting experiments to discover 
whether the increase in the crop, which the 
Board does not deny, may not be due to the 
soaking in the chemical solution, and not 
to the accompanying electrification. If the 
Board had communicated with Mr Fry, he 
could have enlightened it, and saved it the 
trouble of experimenting. The possibility 
of the effect being due to the soaking in the 
chemical and not to the electrification is 
obvious, so obvious that the Board of Agri- 
culture noticed it at once, and it is needless 
to say that it was present to the mind of 
the inventor of the Wolfryn process from 
the very outset of his experiments. He has 
found — and the information is very much at 
the service of the Board of Agriculture — 
that soaking in a chemical solution and sub- 
sequent drying of the seed does produce some 
increase in the resulting crop ; and the in- 
crease is sometimes so considerable that it 


seemed worth while to take out a patent for 
the operation. Mr Fry accordingly applied 
for and obtained a patent, and the belated 
experiments of the Board of Agriculture 
will be an infringement of this patent — an 
infringement that Mr Fry is not likely, 
however, to resent ; and for this reason : 
that, though in many cases an improvement 
in the crop does undoubtedly follow on the 
practice, yet this improvement is usually far 
less than is obtained by the additional use 
of electricity ; and when once the seed is 
soaked in the chemical solution, and must 
thereafter be dried, by far the greater part 
of the trouble and expense is already in- 
curred, and the additional cost of electrifying 
is so small, and the additional gain so great, 
that, having gone thus far, it would be silly 
not to complete the process. 

The only other matter that calls for 
comment in the Board of Agriculture's 
Memorandum is that referring to potatoes. 
The electrified potatoes showed a decreased 
yield in four cases out of the five selected. 


In fairness to the inventor and to his process, 
it should have been added that he has never 
advised its adoption for potatoes except ex- 
perimentally. It is obvious that potatoes are 
very different from wheat, oats, and barley, 
and that the former require treatment very 
different from the latter. The treatment of 
potatoes is still in the experimental stage ; 
the plots selected by the Board's expert 
were experimental ; and a certain propor- 
tion of experiments are, as will be presently 
explained, bound to fail, and intended to fail. 
Great success has followed the electrification 
of seed potatoes in some instances ; consider- 
able loss has followed in others. This is the 
history of all such experiments, and will be 
the history of all subsequent experiments. 
It is by the method of trial and error that 
success is at last attained ; and during the 
experimental stage, in which potatoes still 
are, failure is as much to be expected as 
success. To take one feature only : it is 
manifest that potatoes contain a very much 
larger proportion of water than corn, and 


if potatoes are dried to the same degree as 
corn is dried, that is, until all the water 
but about I 2 per cent, of the weight of the 
substance is extracted, the potatoes will be 
seriously damaged, and may even be killed. 
This is, of course, always taken into con- 
sideration by the inventor himself, but it has 
not always been remembered by those who 
have electrified comparatively large quanti- 
ties ; and the seed potatoes, and consequently 
the crops, have suffered in consequence. It 
would be manifestly unfair and misleading to 
put such failures down to the discredit of 
the Wolfryn process. This process is not 
yet recommended, and has not been recom- 
mended, for potatoes except experimentally. 
Some of the experiments have been very 
successful, and there is no reason to doubt 
that, when the conditions of treatment have 
been accurately determined, potato crops will 
be as much benefited as crops of grain. 



DuRiNci the early stages of experimentation 
on any given kind of seed, and, indeed, 
during the early stages of experimentation 
on almost anything, failures are inevitable, 
and are normal. The purpose in view is 
to discover -the best method, and the best 
method cannot be selected if all are alike. 
What are to be discovered are the limits 
within which the best treatment lies ; and 
these limits can only be discovered by going 
beyond them, and so courting failure. For 
instance, it is desired to find the best dura- 
tion of treatment for a kind of seed that has 
not been tried before. A large number of 
parcels of the seed are taken, and are treated 
for different lengths of time, beginning with 



a period that is pretty sure to be too short, 
and ending with one that is pretty sure to 
be too long. Each lot of seed is then sown, 
and, if the guess as to the proper duration 
has been about right, those seeds that have 
had the shortest treatment will show no 
advantage, and with them the process may 
be said to have failed ; and those seeds that 
have had the longest treatment will have 
been injured, and perhaps will not germinate 
at all, and with them also the process may 
be said, in a certain sense, to have failed. 
In one sense, then, the experiments with 
the first and last lots will be failures ; but 
manifestly this is a wrong term to apply to 
them. The purpose of the experiment is 
not to produce an increase in the crop 
yielded by every lot, but to find out which 
lot yields the greatest increase. In this 
purpose the experiment will be so far suc- 
cessful that it will justify further trials in 
which the extremes are omitted, and the 
new lots begun with a longer treatment 
than the shortest of the previous trial, and 


ended with a shorter treatment than the 
longest of that trial ; and so by repeated 
trials the duration is narrowed down until 
it can be fixed within half an hour or 
so. Then the degree of concentration or 
strength of the solution is tested in a similar 
way ; and again, in this series of tests, 
some of the lots will exhibit no effect, and 
others will be damaged or killed ; but it 
would be a misnomer to call either of 
them failures. 

When once the standard treatment for 
any kind of seed is determined, no failure 
is met with in laboratory experiments, 
provided the subsequent experiments are 
properly conducted ; but failures may still 
be met with in field experiments, or in 
the practical experience of farmers, even if 
the process is properly carried out. Such 
failures, in which no increase, or perhaps 
an actual diminution, of the yield of the 
treated seed is discovered on threshing the 
crop, are rare, but they do occur now and 
then, and they must be expected and allowed 


for. The causes are various, and are some- 
times assignable and sometimes not. 

It must be remembered that the raising 
of agricultural crops is an extremely complex 
operation, subject to conditions that are 
imperfectly understood, and that, when elec- 
tricity is not used, crops sometimes fail for 
reasons quite apart from any defect in the 
quality of the seed. The depredations of 
rabbits, hares, birds, insects, and fungous 
diseases are by no means uniformly spread 
over a large field. The damage inflicted by 
rabbits w^ill be greatest on the side nearest 
to their warren. The damage inflicted by 
pheasants will be greater on the side nearest 
to the wood in which they roost. The 
competition of weeds will be in the parts of 
the field nearest to the hedgerows, and some 
forms of fungous disease spread from the 
hedgerows in which the fungi pass one 
phase of their existence. Again, some 
weeds, such as couch, occur in patches, and 
these patches may be larger, or more numer- 
ous, or both, in one part of a field than in 


another. In some fields the soil is patchy, 
gravel coming to the surface in places and 
being absent elsewhere ; or the subsoil may 
be different or may come nearer to the 
surface in one place than in another, so that 
here there may be a couple of feet of good 
loam, and there only six inches. Again, 
if a field is on a slope, the surface rain-water 
will flow from the higher to the lower level ; 
and if the subsoil slopes and is impervious, 
the rain that has soaked into the soil will 
have a similar trend. Even if the subsoil 
is not impervious, water that soaks into the 
soil will spread horizontally, and, if the field 
is on a slope, will come to the surface and 
flow down. But rain-water in the soil 
dissolves the manurial substances in the soil, 
and carries them with it ; and when the rain 
evaporates and the soil dries, the manurial 
substances are left where the rain has carried 
them to. For this reason, the lower portion 
of a sloping field is richer in manure than 
the upper portion, and, other things being 
equal, will yield a better crop. So, too, 


the lower portion of a field is less exposed 
to certain winds than the upper portion, 
and these have their influence on the quan- 
tity of the crop produced. The trees in 
the hedgerows rob the adjacent parts of the 
field of a portion of their nourishment, 
shade them from the sun, and protect them 
from certain winds. Sheep may have been 
folded upon one part of the field and not 
upon another, so producing a great difference 
in fertility ; and even where they are folded 
they manure the ground irregularly. From 
all these considerations it will be seen that 
the crop in one part of a field is by no 
means necessarily grown under the same 
conditions as the crop in another part of the 
same field ; but, on the contrary, and especi- 
ally if the field is large, or sloping, or both, 
part of the crop is almost necessarily grown 
under more favourable conditions than other 
parts, and uniformity in the conditions of 
growth must be rather the exception than 
the rule. The differences between one part 
of a field and another may not be great, but, 


as the crop is subjected to these conditions 
week after week and month after month, they 
must have their effect, and must to some 
extent vitiate the comparison between crops 
grown in different parts of the same field. 

So potent are these influences that they 
must be allowed for, and are allowed for, 
in estimating the value of any application 
of treatment to the crop. Of all artificial 
or chemical manures, none has more thor- 
oughly established its value and reputation 
among farmers than sulphate of ammonia. 
It is used in immense quantities all over the 
country, and no agriculturist ever dreams 
of questioning its value. But sulphate of 
ammonia is by no means uniformly success- 
ful in increasing the crop. It usually pro- 
duces a very decided increase, but it does 
not always produce the same amount of 
increase, and sometimes it produces no in- 
crease at all. Sometimes the crop manured 
with sulphate of ammonia is a failure. But 
as it is successful in increasing the crop 
in about 80 per cent, of the cases in which 


it is used, it is recognised, in spite of its 
failure in the remaining 20 per cent., as 
one of the most valuable manures that is 
used on the farm. When we speak of the 
electro-chemical ti-eatment of seed as being 
a valuable adjunct to agriculture, and as a 
pow^erful means of increasing the crops, we 
must therefore not be understood to assert 
that it will be successful in every case, or that 
the increase that it usually produces will be 
of the same amount in every case. If we can 
show that it is followed by a decided increase 
in the yield in 80 per cent, of the cases in 
which it is tried, we have proved our point. 
Up to the present, it has produced a decided 
increase in much more than 80 per cent, of 
the cases in which it has been tried. 

In the circumstances above described, 
there may be an apparent failure, but there 
will not be a real failure. There is no real 
failure unless the treated seed, when sown 
and grown in similar soil and under the 
same conditions as the untreated, fails to 
show a substantial increase in yield. We 


now consider the cases in which there is a 
real failure, and the causes of it. 

In the early stages of applying a new and 
ill-understood process, failures are inevitable. 
Even when a process is well known and 
fully established by the successful practice 
of years, there are occasional failures. As 
we all know, even the electric light some- 
times goes out suddenly : even the telephone 
sometimes fails to carry its messages : even 
a locomotive engine sometimes breaks an 
axle or a connecting-rod : even an explosive 
shell may be a dud. Perfection is seldom 
maintained continuously in human affairs, 
and even the electro-chemical treatment of 
seeds sometimes fails to produce an increase 
in the resulting crop as compared with the 
control. To condemn the process on this 
account would be unreasonable. It would 
be as unreasonable as to refuse to travel by 
railway because there is sometimes an acci- 
dent on the line. To refrain from using 
the process because the increase in the crop 
is not always up to the usual mark is as un- 


reasonable as to refuse to travel by railway 
because trains are not always up to time. 
" Depend upon it," says Dr Johnson, " a 
fallible being will fail somewhere " ; and de- 
pend upon it, a process executed by fallible 
beings will fail sometimes. 

The reasons for some of these failures 
have already been given. They lie in the 
unevenness and irregularity of the soil and 
other conditions in which the seed is sown. 
The reasons for other failures, or partial 
failures, lie in the faulty performance of the 
process. If the process is wrongly per- 
formed, its failure lies at the door of the 
performer, not at that of the process. We 
might as well blame the engine for not 
going when the fire is not lit or the steam 
is not turned on, or the clock for stopping 
when it is not wound. In the early experi- 
ments, mistakes were made by the inventor 
himself. That was inevitable. He had to 
find out by the expensive process of trial 
and error the conditions of success. These 
conditions are now ascertained for cereals. 


and now there should be no failures ; but the 
mischief is that amateurs will attempt to 
conduct a process with which they are im- 
perfectly acquainted, in which they omit 
some necessary precaution, and then, when 
failure results, they blame, not themselves, 
but the process. 

In the early days of the experiments, the 
inventor freely distributed treated seed to 
various people for trial. As he had not 
then ascertained all the necessary precautions, 
some of these lots were faulty, and resulted 
in failure. The experimenters thereupon 
condemned the seed, and the process, and 
the inventor, and would have no more to 
do with any of them. The attitude was 
perhaps not unnatural, and it may have been 
incautious on the part of the inventor to 
distribute the seed before he was sure of 
success ; but, if incautious in this respect, he 
is cautious as an experimenter, and wished 
to eliminate the personal factor. However 
careful he may be, an inventor can scarcely 
be sure that he does not unintentionally and 


unconsciously favour his own invention, and 
Mr Fry desired to eliminate every possible 
source of uncertainty. He therefore sent 
samples of treated and untreated seed to 
certain agricultural colleges, with the re- 
quest that they might be grown experi- 
mentally. This was in the early days " of 
the process, when the proper conditions 
were only guessed at, and when failures 
were frequent ; and the particular experi- 
ments in question were failures. They 
either showed an actual loss, or no gain, or 
a gain so small as to be within the normal 
margin of error. In the light of subsequent 
experience it is now known that, with seed 
treated as these samples were treated, no 
benefit could be expected ; but the colleges 
to which the seeds were sent did not take the 
view that the tests they were asked to make 
were experimental. They regarded them as 
decisive of the value of the process ; and as 
the results showed no benefit, they con- 
demned the process wholly and utterly, and 
regard this condemnation as final. 


Of course it is to be remembered that 
the inventor of the Wolfryn process is not 
a professor. He is not even an agricul- 
turist. He is an outsider, and professional 
men do not welcome the intrusion of an 
outsider into their domain, which they are 
apt to guard with a jealous exclusiveness. 
Doctors are not enthusiastic admirers of 
the successes of the bone-setter ; military 
men have not much respect for the amateur 
strategist ; the clergy are impatient of the 
theologian who has not gone through the 
orthodox theological training ; and pro- 
fessors of agriculture are not wholly exempt 
from the common failings of humanity. 

It is quite true that this attitude of the 
professional man to the amateur is in most 
cases justified. A little knowledge, if it is 
expressed with airs of importance, is very 
apt to expose its possessor to ridicule ; but 
it is not always safe to despise the outsider. 
Many of the most important inventions, 
which have completely revolutionised various 
departments of industry, have been made by 


outsiders, men trained and brought up in 
occupations with which their inventions had 
nothing at all to do. It is well known that 
Arkwright, a barber, invented the spinning 
jenny ; that Newcomen, an ironmonger, and 
Watt, a mathematical instrument maker, 
between them invented the steam engine ; 
and that Trevithick, a miner, and George 
Stephenson, another miner, between them 
invented the steam locomotive ; that DoUond, 
a weaver, and Hall, a barrister, both invented 
achromatic lenses ; that Lassels, a brewer, 
discovered the satellites of Uranus, which 
had itself been discovered by W. Herschel, 
a music -master ; that Graham, who dis- 
covered the diurnal variation of the compass, 
was a clock-maker ; and that the gravity 
escapement in clocks was invented by 
Becket-Denison, who was a barrister ; that 
the electric telegraph was perfected by 
Wheatstone, a maker of musical instru- 
ments ; — and the list might be extended 
indefinitely. There is therefore no primd 
facie improbability in the invention by Mr 


Fry, who is not an agriculturist, of an 
important improvement in agriculture. It 
may be that the professors of agriculture 
are not very pleased that an outsider should 
have discovered an important aid that they 
have overlooked to agriculture, and they 
have not hitherto shown themselves sympa- 
thetic towards the process ; but the field of 
experimentation that it opens up is so vast 
that there is plenty of room for an army of 

But even now that the process is, if not 
perfected, yet practically quite ascertained 
and successful, failures do occasionally occur; 
and when they occur, it is invariably found 
upon investigation that the fault has been, 
not in the process itself, but in lapses from 
it. The most important of these are the 
following : — 

I. The solution employed may not be 
ideally suitable to the soil in which the seed 
is grown. There is much need of further 
research in this respect. Seed that has been 
treated electro-chemically may show an im- 


portant gain over untreated seed when the 
two are sown in one soil, and yet, when 
other seed of the same batch is sown in 
another soil, there may be no material 
difference. It is evident that the determin- 
ing factor must be the suitability of the salt 
used in the solution to the soil in which the 
seed is grown. 

2. The duration of the process may not 
be suitable to the kind of seed under treat- 
ment. A period of treatment that is right 
for one kind of seed may be enough to 
electrocute another kind, and injure or 
destroy its germinating energy. A dura- 
tion of treatment that may be right for one 
kind of seed may not be long enough to 
produce any appreciable effect upon another. 
The duration of the treatment must be 
adjusted to the peculiarity of the seed, and 
the proper length of treatment can be dis- 
covered only by a careful course of experi- 
mentation. Inattention to this matter may 
result in utter failure. 

3. But the chief cause of failure, the 


cause of 90 per cent, of the bad failures, 
is in the drying. After electrification the 
seed must be dried ; and it must be dried to 
just the right extent and at just the right 
temperature. If the seed is insufficiently 
dried, it will be apt to heat if it is kept in 
bulk, or even in the sack, and then may 
begin to germinate before it is sown ; or, 
if it heats sufficiently, its germinating power 
may be destroyed. Even if it does not heat, 
it may be mildewed. If it is not kept, but 
is sown at once, it may be too much swollen 
with moisture to pass through the drill. If, 
on the other hand, it is over-dried, the seed 
is weakened in its germinating energy, or 
may even be killed. Again, if it is dried 
at too high a temperature, it may be baked 
or even scorched, and in either case it is 
killed. The drying is a very important part 
of the process, and, when the process fails 
to give an increase in the crop, the fault 
is usually in the drying. 

Another source of failure is in delaying 
the sowing of the seed. The effi^ct of the 


electro-chemical process on the seed is 
transient. After a time it passes away, so 
that, if the seed is kept too long out of the 
ground, it reverts to its previous condition, 
and no effect from the electrification can be 
expected. If the seed is kept in a dry place, 
the effect lasts about a month ; but toward 
the end of a month the effect passes off, and 
seed sown after this time must not be ex- 
pected to show much improvement in the 
crop. It has happened during the war, 
when electrifying stations were few, that 
seed had to be sent a considerable distance 
for treatment, and a month was consumed 
by the return journey. In this case the 
increase in the yield, which, if the seed had 
been sown promptly, might have been 
expected to be 25 or 30 per cent., was only 
5 per cent. Here again the process itself 
could not be justly blamed. 



Besides occasional failures, the causes of 
which can almost always be traced, and found 
to be either in the faulty performance of 
the process, or in delay in the sowing, or 
in inequality of the conditions under which 
the treated seed and the control seed is sown 
and cultivated, there are certain disadvan- 
tages at present in the process, some of 
which are inherent, while others will be 
removed as it becomes better understood. 
Fortunately, none of them is sufficiently 
important to detract seriously from the 
benefits that the process confers. They are 
as follows : — 

In the first place, another operation is 

added to those necessary for the cultivation 



of the farm. On the other hand, the burden 
of this process does not fall upon the farmer. 
He does not need to learn how to conduct 
it. It is done for him. It requires from 
him no extra skill, no extra labour, no 
new operation, no additional machine or 
implement, no more house-room, no addi- 
tion to his expenses beyond the fee for 
treating his seed, which is in most cases 
trifling in comparison with the advantage 
he gains. 

Secondly, it involves the delay of a day 
or two in sowing, and this may have some 
importance in view of the vicissitudes of 
the weather. If the farmer does not send 
his seed for treatment until the sowing 
season is actually upon him, he may miss 
the best days for sowing, and be compelled 
to sow when the land is not in as good con- 
dition as in might have been. The remedy 
is manifest. He should send his seed in 
good time. Electrifying stations are now 
sufficiently numerous to ensure that the 
farmer will not have to send his seed to any 


great distance, and sufficiently well equipped 
to ensure that his seed will be treated and 
returned promptly.^ In time, travelling 
plants will be installed, which will go 
round from farm to farm and treat the 
seed upon the spot, in the farmer's own 
stackyard ; and by this means time will be 
saved and trouble abolished. In any case, 
the farmer has a margin of time of about 
a month before he need sow his treated 
seed ; and although the sooner it is sown 
after treatment the better, yet if he has 
his seed treated early in the season, so as 
to have it ready before the time for sowing 
actually arrives, he will not miss a favour- 
able opportunity. 

Thirdly, the results are not uniform ; 
but it is necessary to explain what this 
means. The results are uniform in this 

1 Experience since this was written shows that it is 
stated too absolutely. The rush of orders for the spring 
sowing of 1919 has been so great that the plant installed 
has proved insufficient, and orders for the electrification 
of hundreds of sacks have had to be refused. Electrifying 
plants are rapidly being enlarged and multiplied. 


respect, that all the seed electrified at one 
operation and sown in similar soil will give 
uniform results ; but if part of the seed is 
sown in one kind of soil and part in another, 
the two crops are likely to differ. One 
will show more advantage than the other. 
Again, the increase in the crop on one farm 
is most in the grain, and in another is most 
in the straw. The increase in one crop may 
be eighteen or twenty bushels to the acre, 
and in another may be only five or six. In 
these respects the results are not uniform, 
and the reasons for these discrepancies are 
yet to be discovered, and no doubt will be 
discovered when there has been time for the 
necessary investigations ; and then the want 
of uniformity can be remedied. But the 
result is uniform in this respect : that there 
always is an increase in the crop that grows 
from the electrified seed. The increase may 
be in the number of grains in the ear, or in 
the number of culms grown from each seed, 
or in the length and stoutness and weight 
of the straw ; but in one or other or all of 


these respects the crop is increased. In that 
respect the results are uniform. 

In the fourth place, as already explained, 
the effect upon the seed is not permanent. 
In the course of time it passes away, so that 
the seed will not show any benefit if it is 
kept too long after it has been treated and 
before it is sown. It is no use having 
seed treated in the autumn for sowing in the 
following spring. It must be sown within 
a month from the time of treatment. But a 
month is a sufficient margin, and few farmers 
will want more in ordinary seasons. 

Lastly, if the process is not properly 
carried out, it will very probably fail to 
show any increase in the resulting crop ; 
and if the treatment is very faulty, the 
grain may be damaged, and the crop will 
then suffisr in consequence. This cannot 
justly be considered a disadvantage of the 
process itself. The process is a simple one, 
and is no more difficult to carry out success- 
fully than the process of dyeing a parcel 
of yarn, or sterilising a surgical dressing, 


and is much simpler than making a Stilton 
cheese ; but, like all these processes, it is 
not foolproof. It may be bungled, and it 
is very likely to be bungled if it is conducted 
by inexperienced or careless hands. It is 
simple, but it requires vigilant attention, 
proper conditions, and a certain skill that 
is to be attained only by practice under a 
skilled instructor. If these conditions are 
not observed, the grain may be damaged, 
and the process may fall into undeserved 
discredit. In fact, it has fallen into un- 
deserved discredit in certain quarters, in 
consequence of faulty performance due to 
want of experience and want of skill in the 
performers ; but it cannot be too strongly 
insisted upon that in every case in which 
the result has been unsatisfactory the failure 
has been traced either to a fault in the 
method of performing the process, or to 
undue delay in sowing the seed, or to differ- 
ence in the conditions under which the 
treated and the control crops were grown. 
To this rule there has been no exception 



whatever. Mistakes have been made. In 
an entirely new process it is inevitable that 
mistakes should be made ; and in certain 
quarters the reputation' of the process has 
suffered because early and experimental 
trials, all of which could not be expected 
to be successful, were taken for examples 
of a matured and perfected process that 
ought never to fail. The process is now 
matured with respect to cereals, and with 
them it does not fail ; but before it was 
matured there were failures which were 
then unaccountable, but have since been 



The inventor of the Wolfryn electro-chemical 
process took for the subject of his early ex- 
periments the chief seeds used in agriculture. 
The choice was natural, and was wise. 
Agricultural crops are by far the most im- 
portant crops, and the most abundant crops ; 
and of agricultural crops, the three standard 
cereals, wheat, oats, and barley, are by far 
the most important. As the experiments 
proceeded, the world was threatened with a 
scarcity of food ; and if these crops could be 
materially increased, much would be done 
to relieve this scarcity. Moreover, the three 
cereals are much alike ; they all belong to 
the same natural order of plants, they are 
easily procured in abundance, and they are 



grown upon a large scale almost everywhere 
in these islands. For all these reasons, 
cereals were chosen for the first subjects 
of experiment. 

The last consideration, the scale on which 
they are grown, is especially important. An 
acre is a small area in the eyes of an agri- 
culturist, and a single experiment, in which 
the yield of one acre is compared with the 
yield of another, is to the practical farmer 
of only trifling magnitude, and carries but 
little weight ; but in an acre of wheat there 
are between a million and a half and two 
millions of wheat plants ; and what an ex- 
periment conducted upon an acre of ground 
gives, when compared with the yield of 
another acre, is the average yield of at least 
a million and a half of plants compared with 
the average yield of another miUion and a 
half. Experiments upon this scale cannot 
be conducted in the laboratory ; experiments 
on this scale are rare in the practice of ex- 
perimentation ; and experiments in which 
the average of such enormous numbers is 


taken must carry weight. Such numbers 
completely eliminate the disturbing effects 
of individual peculiarities in the seeds. 

For all these good and sufficient reasons, 
agricultural seeds, and especially the seeds of 
cereals, received first attention, and horti- 
cultural seeds were relegated to the second 
place, and left over for subsequent ex- 
perimentation ; but now that the proper 
treatment of cereals has been sufficiently 
ascertained to assure an increase in the 
crop in every case in which the process 
is properly conducted and the comparison 
fairly made, the inventor is turning his 
attention to horticultural seeds. 

The field of experimentation opening out 
in this direction is enormous and inex- 
haustible. Horticultural seeds are twenty 
times, perhaps fifty times, as numerous as 
agricultural seeds, and are also very much 
more diverse. They belong to a much 
greater number of natural orders, and to 
orders that are much more widely different, 
and must engage the attention of many 


experimenters for many years. A beginning 
has been made, however, and some excellent 
results have been obtained ; but it must be 
clearly understood that the electro-chemical 
treatment of horticultural seeds is still in the 
experimental stage, and will not be recom- 
mended for general adoption for any one kind 
of seed until practical certainty of success 
with that kind of seed has been attained. 

Meantime, the claims of agricultural seeds 
are still urgent and still clamant. From all 
parts of the world — from places as far distant 
as New Mexico, North Borneo, Nyasaland, 
South Africa, Trinidad, New Zealand, India, 
Japan, and elsewhere — the inventor receives 
urgent requests to explain the proper treat- 
ment for rice, sorghum, flax, sugar-cane, 
cotton, tobacco, and many other crops ; and 
while horticultural seeds must be attended 
to, the claims of agricultural crops must 
take precedence. Manifestly, to settle the 
proper treatment of all these seeds, and at 
the same time to carry out the business 
organisation of the process in this and other 


countries, and to attend to the ever-increas- 
ing mass of inquiries and correspondence on 
the subject, is beyond the power of any one 
man, especially of a man approaching his 
eightieth year. This being so, and since 
the existing agricultural colleges display no 
inclination to take the matter in hand, their 
time being fully occupied, no doubt, with 
other affairs, it is Mr Fry's intention to 
establish, as soon as circumstances permit, 
a thoroughly equipped laboratory, on a 
sufficient area of ground, with a staff of 
skilled and trained experimenters to carry 
out investigations under his own eye, and 
determine the optimum treatment for every 
kind of seed. 

No doubt, when this can be done, prin- 
ciples will be established and rules laid down 
that will materially shorten the time that 
need be spent over any one kind of seed. 
Indeed, from the experiments already made, 
which are very numerous, principles are 
beginning to emerge, and it is' possible to 
begin the treatment of a new seed with 


some approximate guess as to the proper 
time, the proper strength of solution, and so 
forth ; and further experience will narrow 
the limits within which the treatment may 
be begun. But the problem with respect 
to horticultural seeds is in its infancy, and, 
while the inventor will welcome the co- 
operation of gardeners in growing treated 
seeds alongside of untreated seeds in the most 
various conditions, it must be distinctly 
understood that such trials are at present 
purely experimental ; that failures are to be 
looked for and expected ; and that the pro- 
cess is not to be condemned and abandoned 
because, with horticultural seeds, failures 
occasionally occur. If every experiment 
were successful at first trial, there would be 
little need of experiment. The only safe 
road to discovery is the road of trial and 
error ; and it is out of repeated errors that 
success at last emerges. 

The conditions under which living things 
grow and thrive are so immensely complex 
that a result cannot be guaranteed with per- 


feet confidence in every case ; but every 
farmer, every gardener, and every man of 
common-sense will admit that if a cer- 
tain treatment, compared with controls, is 
followed in 80 per cent, of a large number 
of trials by a certain result which does not 
occur in the controls, that result is due to 
that treatment. In the case of cereals, sub- 
stantial increase in the crop has followed the 
electro-chemical treatment in much more 
than 80 per cent, of the cases in which it 
has been fairly tried ; and when it is success- 
ful in 80 per cent, of trials of any horticul- 
tural seed, then, and not till then, it will be 
recommended for general adoption for that 
kind of seed. Premature publication of 
individual and sporadic successes as evidence 
of general success is much to be deprecated. 
It leads to anticipations that may not be 
fulfilled in other cases, and thus may throw 
undeserved discredit on a valuable process. 
When the inventor recommends the adop- 
tion of the process for any particular kind 
of seed, it may be relied upon to produce an 


increase of the crop in at least 80 per cent, 
of cases in which that seed is sown ; but 
even in these cases no specific amount or 
proportion of increase can be guaranteed. 
All that our present experience warrants 
us in predicting is that the proportion of 
increase is likely to range, on the average, 
about 30 per cent. 



Of the remarkable effect that electrification 
of seed has in increasing the vigour and 
yield of the crop that grows from the seed 
thus treated there can be no doubt, but by 
what means this effect is brought about is 
at present a matter of speculation. Several 
hypotheses present themselves, and some at 
least of these are susceptible of verification 
by observation and experiment ; and, as the 
matter is attracting much attention among 
students of bio-chemistry and in botanical 
laboratories, it is probable that before long 
a good deal of light will be thrown upon it. 

The facts are : — 

I . That by electrification the seed is 
altered in some way that causes it to grow 



more vigorously, and to yield a larger 

2. That the effect on cereals is sometimes 
to produce a greater yield of grain, some- 
times to produce a greater yield of straw, 
sometimes to have both of these effects ; 
very rarely to increase the straw apparently 
at some expense to the yield of grain ; less 
rarely to increase the yield of grain at some 
expense to the growth of straw ; and 
frequently to increase the yield of both 
grain and straw, but in different proportions 
in different cases, although the treatment 
was, as far as could be judged, the same in 
all these cases. 

3. That the effect is transitory, so that 
if the sowing of the seed is delayed for more 
than a month after the electrification, the 
effect is diminished, and, if the sowing is 
much delayed, may be wholly lost. 

4. Some seeds, such as cereals, respond 
readily to the treatment, and rarely fail to 
show an increased yield in the subsequent 
crop. Other seeds, such as Leguminosae, 


appear to be refractory to the treatment, 
and up to the present time have shown 
sometimes little and sometimes no increase 
in the resulting crop. 

5. Even seed of the same kind, oats or 
barley for instance, shows .very different 
results in different cases, although the treat- 
ment is, as far as can be judged, the same. 
One crop yields a very large increase after 
electrification, another parcel of similar seed 
yields a very small increase. 

These are the facts to be explained. 
What is the explanation ? What hypotheses 
suggest themselves as capable of explaining 
all the facts ? For, however satisfactorily 
an hypothesis may explain some of them, 
it must be rejected unless it accounts for 
them all. 

The obvious explanation, which the ex- 
perienced experimenter will be inclined to 
regard with suspicion just because it is 
obvious, is that the electrification adds to 
the store of energy contained in the seed, 
which, since it contains more energy, acts 


more energetically. For a seed, like every 
other living thing, contains, not only a 
certain quantity of matter, but also a certain 
quantity of energy animating the matter. 
This is the difference between a live thing 
and a dead thing. If a live seed is heated 
to a certain temperature, it will be killed. 
It will be to all outward seeming the same 
as before. It will look the same and weigh 
the same. It will contain the same quantity 
of matter, and the matter will consist of 
very much the same quantities of the same 
elements in very much the same combina- 
tions ; but if we sow this seed under even 
the most favourable conditions, it will not 
germinate. Instead of germinating, it will 
decay. That is to say, instead of assimilat- 
ing new matter and new energy, and building 
up its material structure into new and more 
elaborate combinations, it will fall to pieces, 
and subside into less and less elaborate and 
complicated structures, which lose their 
cohesion, separate from one another, and 
exist merely as chemical combinations and 


no longer as an organised structure. These 
chemical substances contain energy, it is 
true, but only enough energy to hold them 
together in those combinations. They do 
not contain the additional charge of avail- 
able energy that is capable of building them 
up into more elaborate and complicated 
structures. They are dead, and this is the 
difference between life and death, between 
living things and dead things. Dead things 
contain only enough energy to keep them 
as they are : hving things contain in addi- 
tion enough energy to add to the complica- 
tion of their structure, and to enable them 
to absorb and assimilate from without both 
matter and energy for this purpose. 

Now, electricity is, from one aspect, a 
mode of energy. If it is a mode of motion, 
it is energy. If it is particulate, its par- 
ticles are in motion, and so contain or convey 
energy ; and in either case, if we pass elec- 
tricity into a substance, we add to the energy 
in that substance, and this energy is as it 
were detached, free, and additional to that 


previously contained in the substance. It is, 
therefore, a plausible and inviting hypothesis 
to suppose that the energy thus imparted to 
the seed may reinforce and reinvigorate what 
we may term, without committing ourselves 
to any theory, the vital energy of the seed, 
and so enable it to grow more vigorously 
and bring forth fruit more abundantly. The 
hypothesis is simple and attractive, but will 
it cover all the facts ? Scarcely. It is diffi- 
cult on this hypothesis to account for the 
discrepancies of the results in different cases. 
It is difficult to account for the increased 
yield being sometimes in the grain and 
sometimes in the straw. It is difficult to 
account for the small effect the process has 
upon Leguminosas. It is difficult to account 
for the endurance of the effect for a month 
or more, and for its disappearance after this 
time is elapsed. Each of these effects may 
no doubt be explained by straining the 
hypothesis in this direction and in that, and 
by adding subsidiary hypotheses ; but the 
necessity of doing so at once throws doubt 


upon the main hypothesis. It resembles on 
a small scale the prodigious framework of 
what is called Mendehsm, in which hypo- 
thesis is piled on hypothesis, supposition on 
supposition, and assumption on assumption, 
until the mind reels under the accumulation. 
Pelion is piled upon Ossa, and the two are 
supported upon a slender stalk too fragile to 
bear the weight, and the whole structure 
collapses by reason of its top-heaviness. 
We must look round for something more 

It is now well known that the whole 
superficial crust of the earth swarms with 
bacteria, and that some of these bacteria 
have very great influence, for evil or for 
good, upon the lives of higher organisms. 
The bacilli of tuberculosis and anthrax, and 
the vibrio of cholera, are cases in point. 
Plants also have their parasitic bacteria, some 
of which are destructive or deleterious to 
the plant on which they are parasitic, and 
others, such as the well-known azotobacter 
and B. radicicola, are beneficial. Electricity 


may have, and in fact is known to have, an 
influence on the growth of bacteria, and it 
is possible that it may stimulate and assist 
the growth of the nitrifying bacteria, and 
perhaps kill or inhibit the growth of those 
that are inimical to the growth of the plant. 
This is a plausible speculation, but it is only 
a speculation, and has little support from 
what is known ; neither does it fit in with all 
the facts that are to be explained. Neither 
azotobacter nor B. radicicola is known to 
occur in seeds, nor is either of them para- 
sitic upon cereals ; nor is it known that 
either of them is stimulated into greater 
activity by electricity. We are here in the 
region of pure speculation, unsupported by 
any groundwork of fact, and it is not worth 
while to pursue researches in this direction 
until all else fails. 

Again, it is well known that plants of all 
kinds are subject to the attacks of fungi, some 
of which are very deadly in their effects. 
Cereals, especially, suffer much from fungous 
diseases. It is necessary to mention only the 


smut, bunt, and rust of wheat, ergot of rye, 
and mildew, which attacks all cereals and 
many other plants as well. Smut, bunt, and 
mildew undoubtedly infest the surface of the 
seed grain, and may perhaps penetrate the 
interior ; and consequently it is a recognised 
and prevalent custom to spray seed corn with 
a solution of sulphate of copper in order to 
kill the adherent spores. It is evident that 
the steeping of the grain in a solution of 
some metallic salt, which is part of the 
Wolfryn process, will tend to destroy the 
spores on the surface of the grain, and that 
the ions, which are driven into the seed by 
the electric current, may destroy any spores 
that may have penetrated into the interior of 
the seed, and thus protect the plant against 
funguous attacks ; but this is not what we 
are in search of. There is no evidence that 
the superior yield of the plants grown from 
electrified seed is due to this freedom from 
fungous attacks to which the unelectrified 
plants are subject. The advantage is still 
gained when both crops are free from any 


disease. It is true that there is a certain 
amount of evidence, not yet enough to 
enunciate formally, that the electrifying 
process does diminish the liability of plants 
to be attacked by fungous diseases ; but 
this would not account for the increase of 
the crop over that of a crop that is free 
from disease. We must seek some other 

The hypothesis that I suggest provision- 
ally is rather more complicated than any of 
the foregoing, but it has the merit that it 
is not inconsistent with any of the known 
facts, and does account for them all in a 
fairly satisfactory manner without very much 
aid from subsidiary and auxiliary hypotheses. 
It will need a little more space for its state- 
ment, and it must be admitted at once that 
it is sadly in need of substantiation ; but it 
is quite susceptible of being substantiated or 
disproved by appropriate research, and this 
is no small merit in an hypothesis. 

Although the power of vitamine was 
discovered in 1772 by Captain Cook, it is 


fewer than twenty years since the name was 
attached to the substance, and fewer years 
still since a vitamine was isolated and made 
visible separately from other things ; but by 
this time everybody knows what vitamines 
are, and has some notion of their properties. 
They belong to a much larger class of sub- 
stances, some of which occur in various 
articles of food, and others are elaborated in 
the animal body itself, but all have certain 
properties in common. All of them are 
necessary for the healthy balance of nutri- 
tion of the body. If any one is absent, the 
nutrition of the body fails or goes wrong 
in a certain definite way, depending on the 
particular substance that is absent from the 
blood. If one is absent, the gums swell, 
become spongy, and bleed, the nutrition of 
the body fails in certain ways, and the person 
dies. If another is absent, the body becomes 
dropsical, the nerves fail to perform their 
functions, the heart fails, and the person dies. 
If yet another is absent, the skin atrophies, 
the hair falls out, the mind decays, the 


person becomes demented, and at length 
dies. If another substance is absent, the 
proper characters of sex are not assumed, 
and the person remains for life in the 
neutral sexual condition of childhood. If 
a male, he grows no beard, and his voice 
retains its thin, piping, childish pitch ; if 
a female, the hips remain narrow and the 
breasts never develop. Among these sub- 
stances are some which regulate growth 
in infancy and childhood. If one of these 
substances is absent, the growth of different 
parts of the body is disproportionate. 
Certain parts of the body — the brain, for 
instance — remain undeveloped, and never 
progress beyond an early stage. If another 
is absent, the whole body is dwarfed, the 
person never grows up, but remains for life 
with the body of an infant. Some of these 
substances are, as I have said, elaborated in 
the body itself, usually in certain special 
organs, which have no other function ; others 
of them are provided by the food, that is, 
by certain articles of food ; but all have in 


common the property that their powers are 
exerted by almost incredibly small quantities. 
A man of 150 lbs. in weight is kept in 
robust health by two or three grains per 
diem of one of these substances. If these 
two or three grains are wanting, he sickens 
and dies : if they are provided, he is pre- 
served in vigorous life. A pound contains 
7000 grains, so that one or two millionth 
parts of his body-weight of one of these 
vitamines is enough to sustain a man in 
robust health : the continued absence of 
these one or two millionths of his weight 
is fatal. 

Nor is it only animals that depend for 
their lives and their growth upon the in- 
corporation into their bodies of extremely 
minute quantities of very complex substances. 
Plants also have their vitamines, which are 
called, not vitamines, but auximones ; and, as 
in the case of animals, these accessory food- 
substances have a profound influence upon 
the growth of the plant. We may provide 
an animal with what appears to be a physio- 


logically perfect diet, containing in ample 
quantity and in due proportion all the pro- 
tein, carbohydrate, fat, and salts that are 
necessary to its life and growth ; but if 
we do not provide the necessary vitamines, 
the animal will neither grow nor live. And 
similarly, we may provide a plant in ample 
quantity and due proportion with all the 
necessary potash, phosphates, nitrogen, and 
salts that are required for its growth and 
nourishment ; but if it has not its necessary 
quantity of auximones, it will not thrive, 
and presumably, if we could deprive it of 
its auximones, it would not live. 

The extraordinary results that have been 
attained by Professor Bottomley by the use 
of bacterised peat appear to be owing, with- 
out doubt, to the additional supply of auxi- 
mones that his bacterised peat supplies to 
the plants ; and by whatever means we could 
increase the supply of auximones, by those 
means we could increase the vigour of the 
plant and the abundance of its products. 
The seed of every plant contains a store of 


nourishment for the supply of the seedHng 
until it can gather its nourishment from the 
soil or the air in which it grows. Some 
seeds are of microscopic dimensions, and 
contain but little nourishment ; others, such 
as the broad bean, and still more the cocoa- 
nut, are of considerable size, and contain 
much ; but all contain some. And as the 
milk of mammals is a perfect physiological 
food, containing all the ingredients, includ- 
ing the vitamines, necessary for the nourish- 
ment, growth, and development of the infant 
mammal, so the albumen of the seed con- 
tains all the nourishment, including the 
auximones, necessary for the nourishment, 
growth, and development of the seedling 

We have seen that the function of one 
of the animal vitamines — it is not called 
a vitamine, for it is produced within the 
animal body, and therefore receives another 
name — is to enable the animal to attain the 
dimension proper to its species and race. If 
this particular vitamine is deficient, the 


animal, like Peter Pan, never grows up, but 
remains throughout its life of infantile stature 
and development. If this particular vita- 
mine is in excess, the animal grows too 
much, and develops into a giant. Plants as 
well as animals have their vitamines, and one 
of these vitamines regulates the stature of 
the plant. If it is deficient, the plant never 
grows up. It remains, if not infantile, yet 
dwarfed ; and dwarfing is one of the most 
frequent varieties of very many species and 
races of plants. On the other hand, if we 
could supply the plant with an extra quantity 
of this particular vitamine or auximone, 
there is no reason to doubt that we could 
produce in it an earlier and more luxurious 

We may pursue this line of speculation a 
little farther. It is established beyond doubt 
that there is one substance that conduces to 
the attainment by animals of mere size, and 
another that regulates the time and degree 
of development, especially of sexual develop- 
ment, so that, when this latter vitamine is 


wanting, sexual differentiation never takes 
place, and the animal remains permanently 
in the neutral state of childhood. On the 
other hand, cases sometimes occur in which 
this vitamine is produced in excess or pre- 
maturely, and then the animal undergoes 
premature sexual development, so that the 
boy of seven or eight grows a beard and his 
voice deepens into an unnatural bass, and the 
girl at even an earlier age attains puberty 
and becomes a premature woman. That 
wide variations occur in animals in fruitful- 
ness and other sexual properties, and that 
these variations have little correlation with 
variations in size and in development in 
other respects, is well known. 

Now, I think it is fair to suppose that an 
analogous state of things obtains in plants 
also. Like animals, plants increase at first 
solely in size and in structural complexity. 
Like animals, plants, when a certain size 
and structural complexity are attained, be- 
come sexually complete and reproduce their 
kind. Like animals, plants occasionally 


remain dwarfed in stature, occasionally at- 
tain premature sexual completion, and vary 
much in fertility and in other sexual char- 
acters, such as the size, colouring, double- 
ness, and so forth of their flowers. It is 
therefore fair to suppose that, as in animals, 
so in plants, development in size and vigour 
may be regulated by one vitamine, and de- 
velopment in sexual characters by another. 
If we grant this, we have an explanation of 
the undoubted fact that one apple tree runs 
chiefly to wood, while another produces fruit 
several years earlier, and much more abun- 
dantly. We then see why one crop of corn 
runs chiefly to straw, while another with less 
luxuriant growth produces more grain. 

These vitamines, auximones, or whatever 
we please to call them, are extremely com- 
plex bodies ; but that they have a more or 
less definite chemical constitution is shown 
by the fact that they can be isolated by 
chemical processes and obtained in crystal- 
line form. They are also closely allied in 
chemical constitution ; and the experience 


of chemists is that, in building up in the 
laboratory complex bodies of very similar 
chemical constitution, differing only by an 
atom of this or an atom of that, or having 
the same number of atoms differently ar- 
ranged, the processes by which these dif- 
ferent bodies are formed are closely similar, 
and sometimes result in a mixture of two or 
more similar bodies. Moreover, it is a 
commonplace of laboratory knowledge that 
electricity has a powerful effect in disturbing 
and altering chemical combinations. 

Taking all these facts together, I build 
upon them the following hypothesis. The 
action of electricity upon a seed is to modify 
the chemical constitution of certain con- 
stituents of what is called the albumen of 
the seed. Among these constituents are 
the auximones necessary to the growth and 
development of the plant, and these auxi- 
mones differ but slightly from one another 
and from other constituents of the albumen, 
so that under certain conditions the auxi- 
mones are constituted out of the albumen. 


The effect of the electricity is, as I take it, 
so to act upon the albumen as to produce 
more of the auximones. These, though 
they differ profoundly in their effect upon 
the plant, are closely alike in their chemical 
constitution, so that some very trifling dif- 
ference in the intensity or duration of the 
electric current, or perhaps in the strength 
of the saline solution in which the seed is 
steeped, may determine whether the increase 
is in the auximone that determines growth 
or in that which determines fertility. If 
the first is increased, the result will be a 
stronger and taller plant, with greater tiller- 
ing and more sturdy straw. If the other 
auximone is increased, the result will be 
greater fertility, and a more copious pro- 
duction of seed. 

Now let us apply this hypothesis to the 
facts and see if they are consistent with it. 
We have already seen that it is consistent 
with the facts that the growth of the plant 
is more vigorous and that it produces more 
grain when the seed has been electrified, 


and it is consistent with the fact that the 
increase is sometimes in the tillering and in 
the length and sturdiness of the straw, and 
sometimes in the yield of grain ; sometimes 
in both, and sometimes in one at the expense 
of the other. All these facts fit in very 
well with the hypothesis. 

The next fact to be accounted for is that 
the effect of electrification upon the seed is 
transitory. This is quite consistent with 
the other hypotheses, and is consistent with 
this also ; for these auximones are bodies of 
extremely complicated chemical constitution 
— so complicated that their true nature and 
chemical structure have hot yet been deter- 
mined. The more complicated the chemical 
structure of a substance, the more unstable 
it is, other things being equal, and the more 
readily its constitution is altered ; the more 
readily it parts with an atom here and a 
molecule there, and changes into something 
else. Now, one of the conditions most 
favourable to the decomposition of all or- 
ganic bodies is the presence of moisture, and 


it is therefore significant that, if we wish 
to preserve the change, whatever it is, that 
is produced in the seed by electricity, we 
must keep the seed dry. Damp seed reverts 
to its pre-electrified condition more rapidly 
than dry seed. The fact that the effect is 
transient fits the hypothesis, therefore, 
very well. 

The fourth fact to be accounted for is 
that some seeds, such as those of cereals, 
respond readily to the electrical treatment, 
and show increases, sometimes very great 
increases, in the crops they produce, while 
upon other seeds, such as Leguminosae, little 
or no effect has yet been produced. In 
explanation of this, it is certain that the 
chemical constitution of the "albumen" of 
cereals is widely different from that of the 
" albumen " of leguminous seeds. The 
latter, for instance, contain much more 
protein, and the protein they contain is very 
different from the gluten of wheat or the 
protein of barley or oats. But there is 
another and more significant difference. Of 


all plants that have been tested, leguminous 

plants contain the largest proportion of 

auximone; This auximone is distributed 

throughout the plant, and is elaborated by 

the plant in the course of its growth. The 

same thing occurs in other plants, but, as 

it would appear, they do not need so much 

as the highly organised leguminous plants, 

and therefore do not produce as much. 

From this it seems to follow that a small 

addition to the native auximone — and the 

amount produced in the seed can be but 

small — would produce less effect upon a 

leguminous plant, which already contains 

much, than upon a plant of a different kind 

that contains but little. Here again the 

hypothesis seems to be consistent with the 

fact of observation. 

Lastly, the effect of the electric treatment, 
even when carried out in the same way 
upon the same kind of seed, varies within 
very wide limits, increasing sometimes the 
straw, sometimes the grain, and the increase 
being sometimes as little as 4 or 5 per cent., 



and sometimes as much as 60 or 70 per 
cent. As to this, there are two things to be 
said. In the first place, it has been found 
in experience that different seeds, even of 
closely allied family, require very different 
lengths of treatment to produce the best 
effects. Barley, for instance, requires twice 
as long as oats. To people who have no 
experience of agriculture, wheat is wheat, 
barley is barley, and oats are oats ; but 
agriculturists and seed merchants know that 
there are quite 150 different kinds of wheat 
in cultivation, all differing from one another 
in some more or less important respect ; and 
if wheat and barley take, as they do, such 
very different lengths of treatment to pro- 
duce the best effect, it is highly probable 
that different kinds of wheat require different 
lengths of treatment — lengths that do not 
differ as widely as that of barley does from 
that of wheat, but still lengths that are 

Again, it is known to millers that dif- 
ferent varieties of wheat have very different 


physical constitutions, behave very differently 
in the mill, and yield their products in 
different proportions and of different quali- 
ties. These physical peculiarities are accom- 
panied, and to some extent conditioned, by 
chemical peculiarities, and therefore it is 
not to be expected that the same electrical 
treatment will produce the same effect upon 
them all, especially when we consider how 
slight the differences between many of the 
different chemical constituents of the seed 
are. On these grounds, we should expect 
that the effects of the electrical treatment of 
seed would be diverse, and especially so if 
the effect is of the nature of a chemical 
change. There is nothing inconsistent with 
the hypothesis, therefore, in the diversity of 
effect that electricity produces on different 
samples of seed that are called by the same 
name. It is quite likely, moreover, that 
the effect may vary according to the physical 
condition of the seed at the time of treat- 
ment, and according to the physical condi- 
tions under which it has been kept. The 


chemical changes that take place in seeds 
are subtle and elusive, and very little is 
known of them ; but it may be presumed 
with some confidence that one sample of 
seed will differ in chemical constitution, and 
therefore in its chemical reactions, from 
another sample grown in the same field at 
the same time, if, in the meantime, they 
have been stored under different conditions 
of dryness, temperature, and perhaps other 
respects. Even the temperature of the bath 
in which the electrification takes place may 
very likely modify the effect of the elec- 
tricity upon the chemical constitution of the 
complex substance that goes under the name 
of albumen. There is nothing, therefore, 
in the diversified effect of the electricity 
upon the seed that is inconsistent with the 
hypothesis here advanced, and upon the 
whole it fits the facts fairly well, and better 
than any other that has yet been suggested. 

Recently, a book that throws a flood of 
light on electro-physiology has been pub- 
lished by Mr Baines, an accomplished elec- 


trician. He has proved by many thousands 
of experiments, conducted with the most 
sensitive instruments that have yet been 
invented, that every plant, and every part 
of a plant, not only has electric capacity, 
but contains an electric charge. It is, in 
short, a charged electric cell ; and he has 
shown that this is as true of the seed as of 
every other distinct part of the plant. It 
seems that the proper performance of the 
function of each part of the plant is con- 
nected with the possession of this charge of 
electricity ; and it requires no great effort 
of reasoning to see that, if this is so, the 
greater the electric charge, the more vigor- 
ously will the function be performed. One 
of Mr Baines' experiments is a very remark- 
able confirmation of those of Mr Fry. Mr 
Baines cooked two potatoes. One he boiled 
for fifteen minutes, and the other he baked 
for the same length of time. After this 
treatment, one would naturally suppose that 
the potatoes were dead, and no gardener in 
his senses would expect them to show any 


sign of life. Nor would they have shown 
any sign of life if Mr Baines had left them 
alone ; but instead of leaving them alone he 
passed into them for twenty-four hours a 
feeble current of electricity, and thereafter 
both the potatoes sprouted in a remarkable 
manner. It was remarkable that they should 
sprout at all, and that they did so is striking 
evidence of the efficacy of Mr Fry's system. 
After this, objections to the electrification 
of seeds on the ground that a priori it is not 
likely to improve the vigour of germination 
are out of court. It is true that a potato 
is not a seed, but it acts the part of a seed 
in farming operations ; and Mr Fry has 
found that the electrification of seeds and of 
" seed " potatoes may be carried on on the 
same lines and will produce similar efFects.